North Tecolote Canyon

Tecolote Canyon is one of the larger urban canyons in San Diego. It has approximately 6.5 miles of trails, however several major roads and a golf course transect the canyon, making a contiguous hike difficult. We had previously hiked the southern portion of the canyon and set off today to explore the northern portion.

We found the trailhead at the southern edge of the park, just beyond a football/soccer field.

From here, there was a short but steep, rocky descent into the canyon. Noise from the park faded completely as we headed downhill.

Upon reaching the bottom, we found a stream bed covered with smooth river rock. Small puddles of water remained after recent rains. We crossed the small creek and continued straight ahead, plunging into a jungle-like tangle of vegetation. The trail continued south along the edge of the creek.

We had to duck below some low hanging willows as we squeezed along the edge of the creek.

We made our way along the edge of the creek. Most of the path was shaded by towering oaks, but there was the occasional open stretch where sunlight poured in. There were a couple more small creek crossings.

Around .25 mile we came upon a “Y” junction. The fork to the left led up to another trailhead on Genesse Avenue. We turned right, where we had a much larger creek crossing, to continue into the main canyon.

After carefully hopping across the slippery rocks, we once found ourselves on a well established trail heading south.

There were houses high above us along the rim of the canyon. Occasionally we heard the sound of voices or barking dogs drifting down from the nearby residences, but for the most part the canyon floor was tranquil, full of the sounds of singing birds. We heard an avian cry from above, and looked up to see a pair of hawks circling above.

The trail made its way through the canyon, with a verdant, grassy hillside on our left, and the oak-lined course of the creek on our right.

Around .5 mile we crossed a small wooden footbridge and continued through the dense oaks.

There were many spots where the waters of the creek were easily accessed, and we took our time, enjoying the relative rarity of a water hike in San Diego.

At 1.4 miles, just before the main trail met Balboa Avenue, we found a narrow single track trail branching off to the left.

The main section of Tecolote Canyon continues on the opposite side of Balboa Avenue, but unfortunately you’re not able to cross the road on foot (you could walk up Balboa and cross about .25 mile up the road, but unfortunately pedestrian access is prohibited – there are signs on either end of Balboa). The creek runs under the road through a tunnel, so you can probably take that route in the dry season, but right now the creek was too full for that to be an option.

So we were doing plan B, which was to take this side fork over to a small tributary canyon and end near Mt. Etna Neighborhood Park. The trail led very steeply up the side of the hill towards a course of powerlines.

After the steepest part of the hill, the trail bent to the right and leveled out. We found ourselves squeezing through thick growth, high above Balboa Avenue.

The narrow trail descended steeply.

At the bottom of the hill we followed the trail to the left, into the canyon and away from the road.

The traffic noise quickly dissipated as we continued north. We crossed a series of sturdy bridges.

Just shy of 2 miles we came to a “Y” junction. The path to the right appeared to head up towards a residential area. We could hear the sounds of someone playing baseball to the left and surmised that must be the way to the park. So we turned left here, crossing a dry creek bed.

The trail was covered in a layer of woodchips.

Finally at 2 miles, we reached the edge of the park, just behind a baseball diamond. This was our turn around point, so we headed back the way we had come.

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From Highway 52, take the Genesse Avenue exit and south on Genesse Avenue. Turn right onto Bannock Avenue (shortly past Clairemont Mesa Blvd), and find the North Clairemont Recreation Center on your left. Park on the street or at the recreation center. The trailhead is located on the southern edge of the park beyond the large field area. map

Total Distance: 4.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Total Ascent: 450 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Drinking fountains and restrooms with limited hours at recreation center
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of San Diego Parks & Recreation – Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and Nature Center
Trail Map
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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