Ruffin Canyon

If you’re looking for a quiet wilderness experience, but don’t want to leave town, Ruffin Canyon might be the spot for you. The hike begins with a quaint native plant garden and a well defined trail, but soon descends into a rugged, somewhat overgrown canyon. Despite the proximity to major housing developments, Ruffin Canyon offers a surprising amount of quiet solitude.

Our adventure began on a dead end street right next to Taft Middle School in Serra Mesa. There were two potential starting points from the cul-de-sac. Both routes eventually converge so you can take either one – the left path near the wooden “Ruffin Canyon Open Space” sign meanders through a native plant garden maintained by the Friends of Ruffin Canyon, while the right path at the end of the sidewalk leads directly into the canyon.

We took the path on the right, where we found an informational kiosk with the usual trail map and details about the area.

We set off down the trail that ran behind the school. We noted a few exhibits from the garden along the way.

Even though it was early morning, it was already quite warm on the sunny slopes above the canyon. Bees and flies buzzed loudly among clumps of flowering Buckwheat.

As we wrapped around the backside of the school, the trail became increasingly overgrown. Descending steeply into the canyon, we made our way down a series of wooden steps and switchbacking trail.

In several spots we had to stoop down as branches grew across the trail. The temperature dropped considerably.

Around .25 miles we came to a “Y” junction. The right fork led back out of the canyon on the other side of the school. We stayed left, following the stream bed into the canyon.

We made our way through the thick brush deeper into the canyon. Down below, on our right, clumps of enormous palm trees grew from the floor of the canyon.

We found ourselves walking along the course of an old cement drainage ditch that ran along the hillside.

There were patches of more open, easily passable trail mixed with narrower, overgrown brushy sections.

Eventually we reached the floor of the canyon. The “trail” was now just the course of the dry, rocky streambed. The gravel and rocks crunched loudly beneath our feet.

Around .7 miles, a subtle, rocky trail descended in from a side canyon on the left. This led up to another neighborhood access point on Shawn Avenue. We continued straight.

We found a few spots where water was still pooled, and I’m sure this would be much different hike in the aftermath of a major rain storm.

Even though we could see houses and power lines along the rim of the canyon far above us, the bottom of the canyon was still and quiet. It felt like we were miles away from civilization.

Around the 1 mile point, Sandrock Canyon branched off to the right. You can turn and explore that direction if you’re so inclined, but we were finding that traversing the unstable river rock was getting a little tedious, so decided just to continue straight.

At roughly 1.2 miles, we came to a paved road (from the map it looks like this is part of a gated community), and turned around to return the way we had come.

Upon our return, we took a few minutes to explore the native plant garden.

View the full photo gallery

From I-15, take the Aero Drive exit and head west on Aero Drive for about a mile. Turn left onto Ruffin Road (don’t be confused as there is a right turn onto a different segment of Ruffin Road shortly after exiting the freeway – stay on Aero until you see Ruffin Road on your LEFT). Follow Ruffin Road for approximately .6 miles until you reach a dead end where the trail head can be found, right next to Taft Middle School. map

Total Distance: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 297 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed, but the rocky stream bed might be hard on their paws
Bike Friendly?: Not recommended
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
Trail Map
Friends of Ruffin Canyon
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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