North Fortuna via Oak Canyon (Mission Trails Regional Park)


We love Mission Trails Regional Park for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s close by and easy to get to. Second, it has a huge variety of interconnecting trails so you can make as long or as short of a hike as you have time for, and as easy or challenging of a hike as you can handle. The numerous trails also makes it hard to get bored – you can take different routes and constantly mix up your routine. Although we’d hiked North Fortuna Mountain before, we’d never gone up the backside near Highway 52. With recent rains filling up the San Diego River and adjacent creeks, we decided we’d head up Oak Canyon which has an idyllic creek flowing through it wet seasons, then follow the North Perimeter Trail adjacent to Highway 52 up to the summit of North Fortuna. Since it was a nice cool day, perfect for hiking with a dog, we were joined by the ever courageous Khan.


We started from the Mission Dam parking area. It’s important to note that during the winter, the gate on the road into Mission Trails is closed and locked at 5pm, so if you’re starting this hike later in the day you might want to consider parking outside the gate and walking in. You’re allowed to be in the park after the gate is locked, it’s just your car that isn’t welcome. We were actually doing an afternoon hike this time around (we almost always hike early in the morning), so we went ahead parked at the Bushy Hill parking area just to be safe.20160118_DSC6762NorthFortuna

From the Mission Dam parking lot, we headed west through a small picnic area.20160118_DSC6581-EditNorthFortuna

On our right was the Old Mission Dam, a relic from the early 1800’s. The dam was built to provide water for the Mission San Diego de Alcala several miles downstream. While the flume that carried water from the dam to the Mission has long since been dismantled, the remnants of the dam still remain. There were a fair amount of people with young children hanging around the dam area, so we snapped a couple of quick photos and headed on. At quieter times, this is a fantastic spot to watch birds and practice your photography.


Further on up the path we crossed a narrow footbridge which spanned the river. Even though it had been several weeks since the last significant rain, the water was still flowing strong.20160118DSC_5974-EditNorthFortuna

Once across the bridge, the trail bent eastward again. Thick tufts of dark green grass adorned the trail side, a spectacle that we only get to enjoy for a few months each year in arid San Diego.20160118_DSC6592-EditNorthFortuna
The trail started a small ascent and gradually began to turn north. There were a few trails branching off to the right that led back down towards the dam area and an overlook, but we stayed on the main trail as it curved north.20160118_DSC6593-EditNorthFortuna

We quickly dropped back down to the edge of the small creek that flows through Oak Canyon. There was a reasonable amount of water in the creek which which made it even more scenic.20160118_DSC6596-EditNorthFortuna

There was also no shortage of the Canyon’s namesake tree.

At a large “Y” junction we turned left, following the signs for the Oak Canyon Trail.20160118DSC_5982NorthFortuna

The wide dirt path began to narrow and become much rockier as we continued.20160118_DSC6603-EditNorthFortuna

We could hear the sound of rushing water as the creek to our right cascaded over the rocks below.20160118_DSC6605-EditNorthFortuna

The trail ran right alongside the creek here, and we had to climb over a few rocks here and there. Fortunately Khan is part goat, so we had no trouble.20160118_DSC6609-EditNorthFortuna

We crossed a small wooden footbridge to the other side of the creek (one of several we’d encounter on this section of trail), and continued on.20160118_DSC6613-EditNorthFortuna

Here we had more beautiful views of the creek from atop a rocky outcropping.20160118_DSC6618-EditNorthFortuna

At 1.2 miles the Oak Canyon trail intersected briefly with the Fortuna Saddle trail. This was the way we’d be returning, but for now we took the branch on the right to continue on the Oak Canyon Trail.20160118_DSC6629NorthFortuna

We passed a section full of poison oak, helpfully identified with a bright yellow sign. At this point in the season, the plant was mostly bare sticks, with only a few of the tell-tale red leaves to alert passers by to its presence. We knew that even the bare branches could still cause a rash, and made sure to keep ourselves and Khan well away from it.20160118_DSC6631-EditNorthFortuna

The Poison Oak soon disappeared and we found ourselves amid thick brush towering over our heads.20160118_DSC6633-EditNorthFortuna

By 1.5 miles we could see the Highway 52 bridge spanning the canyon ahead.20160118_DSC6638-EditNorthFortuna

We had to cross the creek a couple of times here, this time without the aid of a wooden footbridge. But the water was shallow here and there were lots of sturdy rocks, so it wasn’t particularly difficult and our paws and shoes all stayed dry.20160118_DSC6640-EditNorthFortuna

We ended up on the east side of the creek, making our way across the rocky embankment.20160118_DSC6645-EditNorthFortuna

At 1.65 miles we came to a “T” junction where we turned left along the gravelly road.20160118_DSC6647NorthFortuna

Not far ahead, we came to another junction with a kiosk and some trash cans. Here we turned left and began climbing hills.20160118_DSC6649NorthFortuna

As I mentioned at the start of this post, we’d never hiked this section of trail before. We started up the first hill thinking “Gee, this is kind of steep, but it’s short so no big deal.”20160118_DSC6652NorthFortuna

At the top of the first hill, we realized we had some more climbing ahead of us, and valiantly pressed on.20160118_DSC6653-EditNorthFortuna

The next hill was a little bit steeper, and the footing wasn’t fantastic on the loose gravel, but we’d hiked much worse before. I should also note that as we were right next to the 52 in mid-afternoon, the traffic noise was somewhat overwhelming. But the scenery of Mission Trails in mid-winter is pretty stellar, so we happily climbed up the next hill.20160118_DSC6654-EditNorthFortuna

We were rewarded with a somewhat level stretch at this point. I’d actually just hiked El Cajon Mountain 2 days prior, and found that going up these hills was doing wonders for alleviating the residual soreness I felt from that adventure. In the distance, we could see another hill awaited us, this one appeared to be even steeper still.20160118_DSC6657-EditNorthFortuna

The loose gravel was becoming more of a challenge as the grade increased, but we made it up the next hill without injury or heart attack. Our reward? Another hill.20160118_DSC6662-EditNorthFortuna

And another one beyond that.20160118_DSC6666-EditNorthFortuna

The severity and frequency of the steep ups and downs would put a roller coaster to shame. But at long last, we reached the top of the final hill. Looking back from where we’d come was an impressive view.20160118_DSC6667-EditNorthFortuna

Continuing on, the trail ran into a chain link gate and fence blocking off access to the highway. We turned left onto a narrow set of wooden steps heading up the hillside along the fence, following signs for the North Fortuna Summit.20160118_DSC6672-EditNorthFortuna

The trail along the fence was narrow and tall brush crowded us as we passed.20160118_DSC6673-EditNorthFortuna

Before long the trail started bending southwest and the noise from the Highway faded away.20160118_DSC6677-EditNorthFortuna

At 2.7 miles we came to “Y” junction and turned left to go uphill towards North Fortuna Mountain.20160118_DSC6683-EditNorthFortuna

The ascent was rocky and eroded here, but after the hills along the 52 we didn’t even bat an eye.20160118_DSC6688-EditNorthFortuna

We continued uphill, following signs pointing to the summit, but also stopping periodically to enjoy the views.20160118_DSC6691-EditNorthFortuna

At 3.1 miles we finally reached the summit point where a cluster of rocks provided a nice sheltered spot to sit down out of the wind and enjoy a break. 20160118_DSC6716-EditNorthFortuna

There were a couple of ammo boxes housing a peak register, but our attention was absorbed by the views.20160118_DSC6719-EditNorthFortuna

We didn’t hang around for too long though since it was getting late and we didn’t want to hike back in the dark. So we continued south, following the ridge line to a false summit.20160118_DSC6721-EditNorthFortuna

From there it was a steep descent down a rocky slope.20160118_DSC6733-EditNorthFortuna

At 3.7 miles we reached the bottom of the slope and found a “Y” junction. We took the left fork and almost immediately came upon a 4-way junction between the power lines. We took the first left down the East Fortuna Service Road.20160118_DSC6736-EditNorthFortuna

This road is about a quarter mile of super steep and gravelly downhill excitement which will thoroughly test the traction of your shoes.20160118_DSC6739-EditNorthFortuna

We managed to make it down without incident, and at 4.25 miles reconnected with the Oak Canyon trail.20160118_DSC6746-EditNorthFortuna

From here we followed our original route back to the parking lot.

View the full photo gallery

From Mission Gorge Road, turn onto Father Juniper Serra Trail and continue to the Old Mission Dam Parking area (located approximately 1.8 miles east of the Visitor’s Center and .5 miles west of the campground). Make note of the gate closure time, and park outside the gates and walk in if you are hiking later in the day. map

Total Distance: 5.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Total Ascent: 1340 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed on Oak Canyon Trail
Facilities: Drinking fountain and port-a-potties at Mission Dam parking area
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
Mission Trails Regional Park
Trail Map
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

2 thoughts on “North Fortuna via Oak Canyon (Mission Trails Regional Park)

  1. Nice write up. I am not sure if I would take this for its many hills, so I liked your honest assessment. But I did enjoy your photos. I love going to Mission Trails when I visit San Diego!

    • Thanks Laurie! One of our main goals is to provide an accurate description of each hike so people can determine if its something they want to undertake or not 🙂 You can always turn around and head back at the end of Oak Canyon, that alone is a pretty easy section and its one of the prettiest parts of Mission Trails IMO!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.