North Clevenger Canyon

The San Pasqual Valley consists largely of an agricultural preserve owned by the City of San Diego. The San Pasqual/Clevenger Canyon Open Space Park lies within, split into two disparate segments separated by Highway 78. The Open Space is part of the San Dieguito River Park, however it is managed by the City of San Diego. On a lovely, drizzly Sunday morning, we decided we’d tackle the northern portion.

The trail began at a gap in the fence at the north side of the staging area. We wound our way through some large boulders, all of which had a patchwork of paint covering up a plethora of graffiti. I can’t for the life of me figure out how someone could come to such a beautiful and peaceful spot and decide it could be improved with some illiterate gibberish, but clearly I’m missing something.20151017_DSC9545-EditClevenger

The trail began to descend some stone steps, passing through a tunnel formed from more defaced boulders. We noticed a huge amount of broken glass on the trail in this area and were glad we hadn’t brought one of our dogs along.20151017_DSC9548-EditClevenger

We found ourselves on a narrow single track cutting across the slope beneath the staging area. Despite the initial graffiti and broken glass, this was a gorgeous trail.20151017_DSC9554-EditClevenger

We crossed a couple of wooden footbridges that spanned small gullies.20151017_DSC9555-EditClevenger

The trail was quickly descending to the Santa Ysabel Creek below. We passed some more graffiti covered rocks as we climbed down stone steps to reach the creek bed. At least this particular vandal seemed to care about our safety.20151017_DSC9565-EditClevenger

Around .25 miles we reached the sandy floor of Santa Ysabel Creek. There was no water to be seen, but the tangles of lush riparian growth surrounding us indicated that water flowed through here with some degree of regularity. Sycamores, oaks, cottonwood, and arroyo willow filled the ravine. And of course, graffiti-covered boulders.20151017_DSC9570-EditClevenger

We crossed the sandy creek bed and followed the trail to the left. Granite boulders of the canyon wall rose on our right while the vegetation-filled course of the creek occupied the left.20151017_DSC9574-EditClevenger

The trail ran along the creek for a little way before climbing out and beginning to ascend the northern rim.20151017_DSC9577-EditClevenger

We quickly found ourselves above the tree tops and were once again surrounded by low-lying coastal sage scrub.20151017_DSC9579-EditClevenger

The trail climbed steadily, but was never horrifically steep. We were soon level with the staging area on the other side of the creek and we could hear the noise of traffic on Highway 78 across from us. On the slope beneath the staging area, we spotted the rusted out remains of an old car.20151017_DSC9584-EditClevenger

The trail was a little rough and slightly eroded in some spots, but it was easy enough to follow as it bent northward and we headed towards some small peaks in the distance.20151017_DSC9587-EditClevenger

Towards the west, we could see some green orchards in the valley below.20151017_DSC9593-EditClevenger

The trail bent east again, and we continued to zig-zag our way along the switchbacks up the slope.20151017_DSC9599-EditClevenger

As we ascended, we got ever wider views of the green band of vegetation along the course of Santa Ysabel Creek below.20151017_DSC9603-EditClevenger

The slopes we were traversing were getting pretty steep, but the trail, narrow as it was, was actually very stable.20151017_DSC9625-EditClevenger

In a few spots, the trail crossed over some piles of boulders. No real scrambling was required as the boulders were pretty much level and could be easily stepped across.20151017_DSC9638-EditClevenger

The fog grew thicker as we continued to climb, and we really weren’t quite sure exactly where we headed – but that’s part of the fun of hiking in fog. Plus, sometimes you get really cool views through the clouds, like this:20151017_DSC9659-EditClevenger

I had hoped that as we moved away from the staging area and into some of the more remote sections of trail that the graffiti would dissipate, but it appeared that the climb was only a deterrent to those who removed the graffiti, not those who initiated it.20151017_DSC9661Clevenger

At one point the trail passed right by this precarious looking rock. We managed to pass without being crushed.20151017_DSC9671-EditClevenger

Finally, we came to a “Y” branch with a sign for a viewpoint to the right. The trail continued on the left from here, but is no longer maintained and becomes difficult to follow as you continue. So for today, our destination was just the viewpoint.20151017_DSC9691Clevenger

We headed to the right and followed the overgrown path. We had to push through some wayward bushes in several places but the trail was still pretty easily discernible.20151017_DSC9692Clevenger

We found some lovely large boulders to rest upon while we had a rest and enjoyed the views.20151017_DSC9701Clevenger

Did I mention it was foggy?20151017_DSC9700Clevenger

From here, we retraced our route back to the car.

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From I-15, take the Via Rancho Parkway exit. Head east on Via Rancho Parkway towards the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Wild Animal Park). Continue as Via Rancho Parkway turns into Bear Valley Parkway. Turn right onto San Pasqual Road, then turn right onto Highway 78, still following signs for San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Continue on Highway 78 for 7.3 miles, the staging area will be on the left. map

Total Distance: 4.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Total Ascent: 1438 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed – watch out for broken glass near start of trail
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of San Diego Parks & Recreation – San Pasqual – Clevenger Canyon Open Space Park
San Dieguito River Park – Clevenger Canyon
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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