Santa Ysabel East Preserve

The Santa Ysabel County Preserve is currently divided into two separate parcels known as Santa Ysabel West and Santa Ysabel East. While land is being acquired to connect the two parcels, for the time being the two still stand apart. We had previously explored all of the Santa Ysabel West Trails, and part of the larger Santa Ysabel East Preserve. We’d been waiting for cooler weather and a long weekend to take on the more ambitious end-to-end exploration of Santa Ysabel East. Today was the day.

The shortest route across the entire preserve is 7.4 miles, so we decided it would be best as a point-to-point hike. This meant we needed two cars for shuttling. Since it was already a long drive to Santa Ysabel even without the extra driving between two trailheads, a long holiday weekend when we had few other obligations seemed like the perfect time to undertake this adventure. Thus, our Black Friday “Opt Outside” hike was chosen. We left one car at the trailhead on Highway 79, then drove over to the Farmer Road staging area about 10 miles away to start our hike. The weather was finally cool enough that we could bring along one of the monsters, so we were joined by our fearless dog Khan.

Once at the Farmer Road staging area, we passed through the gate and set off down the trail. We were surrounded by hills covered in dry, golden grass.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2833-edit-2

We quickly came to the dry bed of Santa Ysabel Creek and crossed over. There was a small footbridge to the side to aid in crossing when there was water, but it wasn’t necessary today.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2836-edit-2

We made our way up a short hill and followed the trail as it bent to the right. On our left, a thick band of trees and greenery marked the course of the creekbed. On our right was a large grass covered slope, dotted with the occasional stand of boulders.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2848-edit-2

Before long we spotted our first cow moving towards the creek on our left. She lowed loudly, warning the other cows of our presence. Khan was fascinated by the large mammal.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2853-edit-2

We found ourselves heading towards a stand of oak trees. I caught a flash of movement near the edge of the trees – a coyote apparently heard us coming and was doing his best to avoid us. He was too far away to get a decent picture. Khan was too busy sniffing cow poop to notice, which was probably for the best.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2860-edit-2

The trail weaved in and out of the oaks and sycamores along the creek.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2868-edit-2

We came upon a pair of cows hanging out right on the trail. We approached slowly so as not to startle them. They seemed somewhat indifferent to our presence, but finally moved off the trail to let us pass.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2884-edit-2

We caught another flash of movement in the distance and caught a brief glimpse of a bobcat’s hindquarters. He disappeared quickly into the bushes. This was turning out to be quite the hike for wildlife.

Around 1.5 miles the trail made an almost 180 degree bend towards the creek. There were two picnic tables near the creek, so we stopped to get the dog some water and shed a layer. It was turning out to be nowhere near as cold as we had expected.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2894-edit-2

After getting ourselves situated we continued on. There was a small trickle of water in this section of the creek where we had to cross again. There was another small footbridge on the right, but the water was shallow enough that we just stepped across some rocks and continued on.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2895-edit-2

We started up the hill on the other side of the creek, and once again spotted some movement ahead of us. This time it was a flock of turkeys on the hillside, and they were slow enough that we were able to get a picture.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preservedsc_2903-edit-2

We then proceeded up a rather long, steep hill.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2905-edit-2

The incline continued as we wrapped around the hillside.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2912-edit-2

Finally, at 2.1 miles the trail leveled out and we paused to admire the views. The trees had given way to open, grassy plains, and we could see all the way to the observatory on Mount Palomar in the north.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2939-pano-edit-2

At 2.2 miles we came to a “T” junction where one end of the Kanaka Flat Loop branched off to the left. We turned right to stay on the Coast to Crest Trail.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2945-2

To our left was a wide open field where cows grazed contentedly. 2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2960-pano-edit-2

At 2.5 miles we came to another “T” junction and the other end of the Kanaka Flat Loop. Once again we turned right to stay on the Coast to Crest Trail.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2969-2

We strolled on, enjoying a flat stretch of trail and admiring the scenery.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2978-edit-2

We passed another group of cows who eyed us warily. Khan really wanted to investigate them closer, but didn’t give him the opportunity.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2989-2

We made our way up another steep incline, and at 3.1 miles passed through a break in a barbed wire fence.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_2993-2

More hill climbing awaited us. The grade alternated between relatively gentle and fairly steep.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3002-2

We spotted a red-tailed hawk cruising above us.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3008-edit-2

Around 3.8 miles near the top of the hill, we found another picnic table under a tree just off the trail We took a short break to get Khan some water and let him rest.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3019-2

Continuing on, we soon came to a steep downhill section. The open grasslands changed abruptly to a thick chaparral carpet.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3032-2

Towards the southeast we could see the familiar forms of North Peak, Middle Peak, and Cuyamaca Peak in the distance.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3037-2

We had yet another un-photographed wildlife encounter when we saw a deer, alarmed by our approach, quickly cross the trail ahead of us. He took off through the chaparral and quickly disappeared from view.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3039-2

As we crested another hill, we recognized the start of the San Diego River Gorge to the south. This was close to the Inaja Nature Trail we had hiked earlier in the year.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3054-2

There were plenty of spots to enjoy the views.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3055-pano-2

As we gradually descended, oak trees began to appear along the trail again.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3096-2

Around 5.2 miles the trail made a sharp right turn. An unmarked road continued straight ahead, but we followed the trail marker pointing right to stay on the Coast to Crest Trail.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3110-2

We had thought we were done with the climbing, but quickly came to another steep incline.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3119-2

Once at the top, around 5.5 miles, we found another “Y” junction. There were also a couple more picnic tables and a trail map in the shade. This was the West Vista Loop Trail. Both forks meet up again so you can go either way. The official Coast to Crest Trail is the right fork, but the left fork is shorter and has less elevation gain. Khan was starting to look a bit worn out, so we opted for the easier route and turned left.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3124-2

The trail sloped downhill through some lovely oak trees.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3126-2

There were more open grassland to enjoy, and we spotted another hawk circling the area looking for prey.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3136-2

Around 6.3 miles we came upon the other end of the West Vista Loop Trail on our right. We stayed left to head towards the Highway 79 Staging Area.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3181-2

We passed through another open fence and found ourselves looking out over Santa Ysabel Valley below.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3184-2

We made our way down a long, steep grade. We could see and hear traffic on 79 below, and knew our car was waiting for us.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3197-2

While we could practically see our car, it still took us a while to get there. It was a long, windy, steep descent. We were very glad we’d decided to do this hike from east to west, as this would certainly be much more challenging in the other direction.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3211-2

We finally reached the bottom of the hill and crossed one last flat stretch where cows grazed lazily.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3221-2

Finally, we reached the highway and our car.2016-santa_ysabel_east_preserve-dsc_3222-2

View the full photo gallery

Highway 79 trailhead (leave one car here): Take CA-67 north to Ramona, and continue as it turns into Main Street, then CA-78 East. Approximately 14 miles from downtown Ramona, turn left on CA-79 North. The staging area will be on the right side of the road after approximately 1.3 miles. map

Farmer Road trailhead (begin hiking here): From the Highway 79 trailhead, head south on CA-79 then turn left onto CA-78 East/CA-79 South. After approximately 3.2 miles turn left onto Wynola Road. Follow Wynola for approximately 3.4 miles and turn left onto Farmer Road. Follow Farmer Road for approximately 1.3 miles to the trailhead on the left. map

Total Distance: 7.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 950 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Port-a-potty at Farmer Road trailhead; no water
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
County of San Diego Parks and Recreation – Santa Ysabel Preserves
Trail Map
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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