Ramona Grasslands Preserve

Entrance to the Ramona Grasslands Preserve

The Ramona Grasslands Preserve is a relatively new addition to San Diego’s roster of County Parks. Originally acquired by the Nature Conservancy, the land was later given to the County and a portion was opened to the public in 2011. In addition to hikers, the Preserve is a popular destination for horseback riders (we encountered quite a few equestrians on our visit) and is open to mountain bikers as well.

Winter may be the best time to visit the preserve, as numerous hawks and other large birds overwinter in the area. But the trail is an easy hike with views of wide plains and rolling hills topped with oak trees and boulders that can be enjoyed year round, although it does get rather hot during the summer.

We began our journey early in the day, attempting to beat the heat. We passed through the gate, carefully latching it behind us in accordance with the posted “Cattle Range” sign. Despite our early start, it was already quite warm out.

The Preserve’s trail system consists of two loops joined together by a main stretch of trail. The Meadow Loop began immediately to our left. The main trail ran straight ahead, reconnecting with far end of the Meadow Loop, then proceeding another .2 miles until it connected to the Wildflower Loop.

We turned left (west) along the .8 mile Meadow Loop and immediately noticed what looked like bare dirt stretching out along side us. It almost looked like a lawn mower on low had been through recently. After getting home and doing some research, I came across this article from the Union Tribune which explained that when they were creating the trails here, they found some endangered Stephen’s kangaroo rats living on the Preserve. The area before us was specially constructed for the benefit of the rats, who prefer a combination of dirt and thin, low cut grass.Kangaroo rat friendly habitat at the Ramona Grasslands Preserve

As we continued along the trail we could see the boulder studded, antenna topped form of Mount Woodson to the southwest.View of Mt Woodson from Ramona Grasslands

Before long the bare dirt section ended and we entered a slightly less arid looking area, with some oak trees and brush along the trail.Hiking the trail at Ramona Grasslands

The trail turned north and then east, making its way back towards the main trail. The surrounding brush grew thicker and in some areas we spotted bare and charred branches poking up through the growth – almost forgotten remnants of the 2007 Witch Fire.Remnants of the Witch Fire can still be seen in places at Ramona Grasslands

We passed through a brief, but welcome, shady stretch where oak trees grew close to the path, then descended a hill to meet up with the main trail.Rejoining the main trail at Ramona Grasslands Preserve

We turned left on the main trail for a brief .2 mile stretch to get to the Wildflower Loop. Despite the dry conditions, this stretch of trail was still extremely scenic with a wooden rail fence lining both sides, and idyllic groves of oaks surrounded by large granite boulders. Heading towards the Wildflower Loop trail at Ramona Grasslands

One mile in to our journey, we reached the fork for the Wildflower Loop. You can travel either direction here, we chose to go clockwise and turned left.The start of the Wildflower Loop at Ramona Grasslands

We soon encountered what appeared to be some unmarked trails heading west. The Preserve is about 3500 acres in size, and there are plans to eventually add additional trails, so hopefully one day soon this area will be open for us to explore. For now, however, we stuck to the marked route and began a gentle ascent through a thickly chaparral covered hillside.Heading up hill along the Wildflower Trail at Ramon Grasslands

I assume with a name like “Wildflower Loop” that this is an awesome and colorful stretch of trail in the spring or early summer. Our hike however, took place at the end of summer in a drought year, so it was mostly green and brown that we saw along the trail.The Wildflower Loop at Ramona Grasslands

Despite the warm temperature, as we climbed higher along the hillside a gentle breeze kept us comfortable. The high vantage point provided some remarkable views of the chaparral covered landscape all around us. At the 1.5 mile point, the trail began to descend towards the southeast.The Wildflower Loop trail

Just shy of two miles, the trail dipped down and met what appeared to be a dry creek bed with oaks on either side, then began to ascend again.The trail dips into a dry wash before climbing upwards again

We wound through some more trees, then passed another large empty expanse of dirt before intersecting with a dirt road.The Wildflower Loop trail

The left fork continued on a couple of hundred feet before being blocked by a closed gate, and the Wildflower Loop continued downhill towards the right.Heading down the hill at Ramona Grasslands

At the bottom of the hill we entered an exquisite grove of oaks. Next to a pile of boulders, a picnic table sat in the shade, beckoning us to sit down and relax. We lounged for a few minutes, enjoying the antics of the birds flitting through the trees and a group of cows just beyond a wire fence at the back of the picnic area.The beautiful shady picnic area at Ramona Grasslands

We resumed our journey, climbing up out of the small oak laden valley. The trail was once again exposed to the sun, with intermittent patches of oaks and boulders on either side.The trail continues

The trail wound its way south and west until we reconvened with the main trail at approximately 3.1 miles.Closing the Wildflower Loop

We turned left and headed back down the main trail to return to the staging area.Headed back towards the staging area

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Take Highway 67 North to Archie Moore Road (left turn, a little past Mount Woodson trail head). Follow Archie Moore Road until it turns into Highland Valley Road. The parking lot entrance is about .2 miles ahead on the left. map

Total Distance: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Change: 430 feet
Best Time of Year: Winter, Spring
Dog Friendly: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Pit toilet in parking lot, no water
Fees/Permits: None

For more information visit:
County of San Diego Parks and Recreation – Ramona Grasslands

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