Rancho La Costa is a habitat conservation area in Carlsbad and San Marcos managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. The Preserve actually consists of a number of separate parcels of land, with a total of 1640 acres between them. There are two main parcels with trails open to hikers: the Ridgeline area and the Denk Mountain/Copper Creek area.
We set out early one Saturday to explore the Ridgeline section. The Ridgeline trail runs along a ridge above the steeply sloped Box Canyon, where San Marcos Creek runs. The trail has two access points in residential neighborhoods: one on El Fuerte Street and one on Corintia Street. In the middle, there is a small looping section of trail and a spur trail leading to a small overlook area. We decided to begin at El Fuerte Street, hike up to the overlook and do the little loop section, then return.
The trail bent to the right and I heard a bird calling nearby. I looked into the top of a bush just off the side of the trail, and was delighted to spot a California Quail perched on a branch above my head.
After passing behind another row of houses, we found a trail kiosk with some informational postings and printed trail maps. We turned right, following the helpful arrows on the trail marker and continued along the wide utility road. The trail was well marked with these helpful little red arrows at every spot where the was even the slightest question of which way to go.
The road sloped very gradually downhill towards a row of power lines. We could hear birds chirping and flitting about in the bushes around us. We also spotted a few furry flashes as rabbits bolted away upon hearing us approach.
Tiny white flowers dotted the hills around us as the buckwheat was starting to bloom.
Continuing on the utility road, we got some great views of the steep drop offs into Box Canyon below. There were numerous signs warning that the canyon was off limits and violators would be subject to stiff fines.
The road soon began to ascend steeply. We paused a moment before starting up, and noticed some movement ahead of us. We quickly realized that not only was there a pair of Quail making their way up the hill, but two small rabbits were hopping to and fro, nibbling on grass and exploring the trail.
We spent several minutes watching the animals, but eventually the Quail tottered out of sight, and the rabbits noticed us slowly heading in their direction and scampered off.
The road continued going uphill. We finally got a glimpse of some water flowing in San Marcos Creek far below. It certainly was an enticing view, but it was an extremely steep drop down there. I could see why the area was off-limits, as otherwise rescue calls would be nearly constant.
We didn’t stop however, as we were eager to continue on and see what there was to see. We did pause to admire some of the flowers that were beginning to bloom along the trail though.
At 1.28 miles we came to a “Y” junction where the trail split. This was the start of the small loop portion we had noted on the trail map. We turned right to head up towards the ridge top.
We enjoyed a very short descent through more beautiful flowering sage. We almost missed the next junction though, since the brush was so thick. But a narrow trail branched off to the left, back towards our starting point, so that’s the direction we went. Staying to the right would lead down to the Corinita Street trail head a short distance away.
Take 5 North to the La Costa Ave exit, and turn right onto La Cost Ave. Continue on La Costa Ave for 1.8 miles, then turn left onto El Camino Real. Proceed 1.2 miles on El Camino Real, then turn right onto Alga Road. After approximately .5 mile, turn right Alicante Road. Alicante Road turns into El Fuerte Street after approximately .7 miles. Continue on El Fuerte Street for approximately .9 more miles, and the trail head will be on your right. Park along the street. map
|Total Distance:||2.9 miles|
|Total Ascent:||630 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
For more information, visit:
City of Carlsbad – Rancho La Costa Preserve & Villages of La Costa Trail Guide
Center for Natural Lands Management – Rancho La Costa Preserve
View route or download GPX in CalTopo