Santa Ysabel West Preserve

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Ever since we had hiked the Kanaka Flat Loop at Santa Ysabel East earlier this year, we’d had it on our list to explore the rest of the Santa Ysabel Preserve. Normally this area wouldn’t be my first choice for an August hike due to the heat, but one weekend the forecast was calling for particularly mild temperatures, so we grabbed the cameras and headed out.

Currently, the Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve consists of two disconnected parcels of land in the Santa Ysabel and Julian areas. The two distinct sections are referred to as Santa Ysabel West and Santa Ysabel East. The County of San Diego recently approved funds to buy land to connect the two sections, but for the time being they are still detached. Today’s quest was to cover all of the trails in the Santa Ysabel West Preserve.

Unfortunately, we got there a little bit too early and found that the gates were still locked. It was only about 20 minutes until 8 o’clock when the Preserve officially opened, so rather than test our fence climbing skills we just parked on the roadside to wait for the ranger to show up and unlock the gate. 20150807_DSC4023-EditSanta Ysabel

We had plenty of entertainment in the form of a flock of turkeys wandering around the property across the street and a group of squirrels who were foraging in the tall grass right outside our car.20150808DSC_231-8Santa Ysabel

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Finally, the Ranger arrived and opened the gates. We drove in, parked the car, and were soon on our way. We started off across an open plain. We were surrounded by rolling hills topped with oak trees and protruding granite boulders.20150807_DSC4030-EditSanta Ysabel

As we walked, more squirrels scampered away from us as we approached. Despite the fact that it was the middle of summer, there was still some green thanks to recent rains.20150807_DSC4034-EditSanta Ysabel

Before long, the trail bent towards the right and started to go downhill.20150807_DSC4056-EditSanta Ysabel

At .6 miles we crossed a dry creek bed, and then climbed a steep and rocky hill on the other side.20150807_DSC4059-EditSanta Ysabel

At the top of the hill, the grade eased somewhat. But we were still ascending as we made our way through still uphill through a lovely stand of Engelmenn oaks.20150807_DSC4068-EditSanta Ysabel

Beyond the trees, we encountered a group of cattle grazing on the hillside. As we approached, the younger cows eyed us warily and moved away, huddling together. Most of older cows completely ignored us.20150808DSC_2371-Santa Ysabel

We continued up the hill, and right around the 1 mile point noticed a picnic table situated beneath the trees to our left.20150808DSC_2380-Santa Ysabel

The top of the hill was just beyond. As we crested the hilltop and began to descend the other side, we got some beautiful views of golden hills topped with green oak trees stretching out as far as we could see.20150807_DSC4083-EditSanta Ysabel

As we continued down the rocky hill, we found some interpretive signs with information on some of the more common chaparral plants around us: white sage, scrub oak, chamise, and buckwheat. We also noticed some manzanita and mountain mahogany in the mix. 20150807_DSC4089-EditSanta Ysabel

At 1.4 miles the trail passed through an opening in a barbed wire fence and continued on.20150808DSC_2402-Santa Ysabel

We had a fantastic view of the valley below us. We saw more cows dotting the distant hills, as well as the green belt of Santa Ysabel Creek with a few small pools of water still remaining.20150807_DSC4093-EditSanta Ysabel

We came upon an extremely steep and slippery downhill slope with lots of loose gravel and rocks. Much of our descent was more of a controlled skid than a hike, but somehow we managed not to fall. The hill was relatively short, but I couldn’t help thinking about what a pain it was going to be to climb on our return trip.20150808DSC_2412-Santa Ysabel

At 1.75 miles we came to another set of picnic tables and a dry water trough for horses. Just beyond was the dry Santa Ysabel creek bed. While there was no sign of water today, from other reports I’ve read this can be a legitimate creek crossing during the rainy season. Be prepared if you do this hike in the winter.20150807_DSC4100-EditSanta Ysabel

On the other side of the creek bed, another ascent awaited us. Once again, it was a fairly short climb, just steep and rocky.20150807_DSC4107-EditSanta Ysabel

The grade soon lessened and we continued up a reasonable hill. At 2.13 miles we came to a Y junction which was the start of the loop portion of our hike. We went right along the Ridge Trail to get the climbing out of the way, although since we’d already done most of the ascent along the out and back portion it probably didn’t make much difference.20150807_DSC4114-EditSanta Ysabel

The trail went up the hillside, meandering through the golden grass and intermittent oak trees. 20150807_DSC4119-EditSanta Ysabel

At 2.4 miles the “Shortcut Trail” branched off to the left, cutting across the loop. We had no intention of shortcutting such a beautiful trail – we wanted the full length version! So we kept going straight.20150807_DSC4126-EditSanta Ysabel

The trail continued climbing gradually up the ridge. At 2.6 miles we passed another group of picnic tables at the top. This was definitely the spot to stop and eat if you timed your hike for a lunchtime picnic.20150807_DSC4133-EditSanta Ysabel

We were still a bit early for lunch so continued on. The trail bent westward and we continued on a small segment of the future Coast to Crest trail.20150807_DSC4136-EditSanta Ysabel

We descended another hill, punctuated by some more impressive oaks.20150807_DSC4138-EditSanta Ysabel

At the bottom of the hill, right around the 3 mile point, we noted an old jeep track that branched off to the right leading to unknown destinations. For today’s adventure though, we just continued straight along the Coast to Crest Trail.20150807_DSC4144-EditSanta Ysabel

Soon the trail turned left where it connected with the “Upper Creek Trail” and we began yet another ascent, turning back towards our origination point.20150807_DSC4148-EditSanta Ysabel

The trail ran gradually uphill through an open grassy field, with more oaks and boulders on the slopes around us. 20150808DSC_2447-Santa Ysabel

We encountered a few grasshoppers as we walked. As we approached one, it would make a giant leap and land a few feet ahead of us on the trail, where it sat quietly for a few moments until we got closer and the cycle repeated.20150807_DSC4159Santa Ysabel

At 3.6 miles we passed the other end of the shortcut trail.20150807_DSC4165-EditSanta Ysabel

At 3.75 miles we reconnected with the starting point of our loop. 20150807_DSC4171Santa Ysabel

Turning right, we retraced our route back to the trailhead.

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The trailhead is located on Highway 78 approximately 1.4 miles west of Santa Ysabel, on the north side of the road. map

Total Distance: 5.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Total Ascent: 1323 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Port-a-potties in parking lot; no water
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
County of San Diego Parks and Recreation – Santa Ysabel Preserves
Trail Map

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