Ridgeline Trail (Rancho La Costa Preserve)


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.

We got an early start, hoping to catch some wildlife. There was plenty of parking on the street by the trail head, and we did our best to be quiet so as not to disturb the nearby residents.20160424Ridgeline7556

The trail started out as a utility road passing behind some houses. To our right was Box Canyon, a crevice full green brush.20160424Ridgeline

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.20160424Ridgeline7567

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.20160424Ridgeline-2

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.20160424Ridgeline-3

Just shy of half a mile, we reached the power lines. The road turned left and began to descend. To the right was a small clearing that overlooked a steep drop off into the canyon below.20160424Ridgeline7581

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.20160424Ridgeline7585

Around .7 miles, we found a small water trickle running across the road and off into the brush, to end up joining with the creek far below.20160424Ridgeline7589

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.20160424Ridgeline7596

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.20160424Ridgeline7664

The bushes around us were full of small birds. Most came and went too quickly to photograph, but we got lucky and found a few brave souls that sat still long enough to capture.20160424Ridgeline7624

At .9 miles we found nice covered picnic table, providing a partially shaded spot to sit and enjoy the morning.20160424Ridgeline7627

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.


The sage surrounding us was also blooming, and we found ourselves surrounded by tiny blue flowers.20160424Ridgeline7633

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.20160424Ridgeline7638

One more short climb brought us to another junction. The trail markers all pointed us back down the hill to the left, but we headed right along a small spur trail to get to the top.20160424Ridgeline7644

We quickly reached a flat, open area at the top. To the west was a small, unnamed peak with an antenna on top.20160424Ridgeline7647

Looking west, we could see the blue inlet of Batiquitos Lagoon.20160424Ridgeline7650

To the southeast was Denk Mountain which is a separate portion of the Rancho La Costa Preserve.20160424Ridgeline7652

We relaxed for a bit, enjoying the views, then headed back down to the previous trail junction. Since we wanted to incorporate the loop, we took the right fork at the split.20160424Ridgeline7656

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.20160424Ridgeline7659

In roughly .1 mile we found ourselves back at the start of the loop, and turned right to retrace our route back to the car.20160424Ridgeline7660

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
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 630 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

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
Trail Map
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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