Rancho Carrillo/Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park


Leo Carrillo Ranch is a hidden little gem buried in suburban Carlsbad. It was once a working ranch and the weekend home of actor Leo Carrillo, best known for his role as sidekick “Pancho” on the television show The Cisco Kid. The City of Carlsbad acquired a portion of the property, and it is now designated as both a National Historic Landmark as well as a California Historic Landmark. The park is open Tuesday – Sunday, free to the public, and hosts numerous adobe buildings, fantastic gardens, and other fun surprises to explore.

There is, of course, the option of just driving straight to the park and parking in the parking lot like a normal person, but we’re not normal… we’re hikers! A section of the City of Carlsbad’s trail system runs around the park, so we decided to hike in on the Rancho Carrillo trail. We started at a small parking lot adjacent to Carrillo Elementary School.

The trail began in the southwest corner of the parking lot. We headed west on a paved path that paralleled the road. The other path, heading left, would be the way we’d return.20160206DSC_6413LeoCarrillo

To the left was a chain link fence and an overgrown creek beyond.20160206DSC_6418LeoCarrillo

Large bushes with brilliant orange flowers adorned the hillside to our right.20160206DSC_6417LeoCarrillo

The trail sloped gently downhill, and we quickly came to a junction where we turned left to cross a bridge spanning the creek.20160206DSC_6421LeoCarrillo

We had heard some rushing water while walking down the trail, but even looking down from the bridge, the creek was so thickly overgrown with Arroyo Willow and bare Sycamore trees that we couldn’t see any sign of water. We did hear some ducks quacking happily though, so were pleased that someone was enjoying the creek.20160206DSC_6422LeoCarillo

Once across the bridge, we were confronted with the option of taking the high road or the low road. Turning left immediately past the bridge would take us along the low road running next to the chain link fence along the creek. We decided to follow the paved trail uphill to the right however, and take the high road.20160206DSC_6423LeoCarillo

At the top of the short hill we came to a junction and turned left. The trail traveled east, passing along the backside of a residential area.20160206DSC_6424LeoCarrillo

The high road appeared slightly better maintained than the road below, but otherwise there didn’t appear to be much difference.20160206DSC_6427-EditLeoCarrillo

At .6 miles the two routes converged.20160206DSC_6429LeoCarrillo

We quickly came upon a tan stucco wall adorned with the Leo Carillo Ranch brand and knew we were on the backside of the ranch.20160206DSC_6433LeoCarrillo

The path here transitioned from dirt and gravel to paved asphalt, and sloped gently uphill.20160206DSC_6434-EditLeoCarrillo

There were some interesting plants growing along the wall, including Burbank’s Spineless Cactus with its beautiful orange blooms. This species was originally developed by Luther Burbank as a source of food for cattle in desert regions.20160206DSC_6436-EditLeoCarrillo

At .8 mile the walking path ended at a suburban road – Via Conquistador. We’d be travelling along the sidewalk for a short ways here to the entrance of the park.20160206DSC_6437LeoCarrillo

The route was easy enough – we just kept turning left. Left onto Via Conquistador, then left for a very short way on Rancho Caballo, left onto Carillo Way, and finally a left onto Flying Leo Carillo Lane which led us to the entrance of the park.20160206DSC_6438LeoCarrillo

We passed through the open gate and followed the paved driveway downhill.20160206DSC_6441LeoCarrillo

From here you can wander around the park and explore the many buildings, plants, and other exhibits that are on display. We found a short interpretive path with a corresponding Botanical Guide pamphlet showcasing some of the many interesting plants on the property.20160206DSC_6457LeoCarrillo

There were a number of old buildings to explore.20160206DSC_6454LeoCarrillo



One of the coolest amenities was the swimming pool with a sandy beach.20160206DSC_6470LeoCarrillo

But for me, the highlight of any hike is always seeing wildlife. Happily, this suburban stroll did not disappoint, as we found one of the peacocks that makes the Ranch its home.20160206DSC_6477-EditLeoCarrillo

When we had our fill of exploring the park, we found the continuation of our path in the northeast corner of the park (just east of the Caretaker’s Cottage).20160206DSC_6495LeoCarrillo
We headed up the path, crossing a bridge, to pick up the city trail just outside of the park exit.20160206DSC_6497LeoCarrillo

Outside the gate we turned left, and once again found ourselves passing alongside the tan stucco wall that surrounded the park.20160206DSC_6499LeoCarrillo

After a bit the stucco wall transitioned to a short chain link fence and once again the creek was below us. Here, there were actually a few spots where we could glimpse the water below through the thick riparian brush.20160206DSC_6505LeoCarrillo

The path began going up a gentle hill, and we spotted several large agave, or Century Plant with their enormous stalks towering above us.20160206DSC_6508LeoCarrillo

Just beyond we reached the parking lot where we had begun.

From I-5 take the La Costa Ave exit and head east on La Costa Ave. Turn left onto El Camino Real. After approximately 1.8 miles, turn right onto Poinsettia Lane. Follow Poinsettia Lane for approximately 1.9 miles to Paseo Escuela where you will see the entrance for Carrillo Elementary on the right. Turn right towards the school, then turn right again into a paved parking lot. Park here and find the trailhead at the far end of the lot. map

Total Distance: 1.75 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: 191 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed in the park
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Bathrooms and drinking fountain at park
Fees/Permits: None. Note that the park is closed on Mondays.

For more information, visit:
City of Carlsbad – Rancho Carrillo Trail
Trail Guide/Map
City of Carlsbad – Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
Friends of Carrillo Ranch
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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