South Clevenger Canyon

As highway 78 winds through the San Pasqual Valley, the tall slopes Clevenger Canyon Open Space Park loom above. The Park is bisected by the highway, and separate trail heads provide access to trails on either side. We had hiked the North Clevenger Canyon trail over a year ago, and we decided it was high time to get back and finish the job by hiking South Clevenger Canyon. The two trails offer similar terrain and views, and both are enjoyable hikes. The South Clevenger trail splits at the half mile point, with one fork going east and one going west. Our intention was to hike both forks, but if you’re looking for a shorter hike you could certainly just do one. Of the two, I found the eastern fork a little more scenic and interesting.

From the parking area, we headed east, crossing a drainage culvert, to find the marked trailhead on our right. 2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1230-edit

The trail began to climb almost immediately. The path was somewhat eroded in places, but the dirt was hard-packed and generally rock-frree, so we generally had good footing.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1237-edit

We were surrounded by San Diego’s typical chaparral – lots of sagebrush, chamise, laurel sumac, and coffeeberry.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1240-edit

But what makes this trail worthwhile are the outstanding views of the surrounding San Pasqual Valley. Even just a short way into the hike, we were already getting some fantastic vistas.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1239-edit

We continued up the switchbacks until .5 miles, where we came to a junction. From here the trail splits into two separate forks: the shorter west trail leads to a rocky viewpoint, and the longer east fork leads to a small, unnamed summit. Our intention was to hike both branches. We decided to do the short fork first, and turned right.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1253

We proceeded uphill through the scraggy brush. The trail was starting to get a little overgrown, and pokey grass sagebrush brushed our legs as passed. The trail was still easy to follow, and we saw no evidence of ticks at this time, so the overgrowth was just a minor irritant.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1256

Our effort was rewarded by more views of the valley below.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1263-edit

The trail wrapped around the western flank of the hill we were ascending, and continued upwards. Finally, just shy of 1.4 miles, we came to a “Viewpoint” sign and another trail split.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1318

We took the right fork first, which led a very short distance to a rocky outcropping. Here, we found a trail register in a green ammo box, and dutifully signed in.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1320-edit

We then took a few minutes to sit down and enjoy some awesome views of the San Pasqual Valley Agricultural Preserve below.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1321-pano-edit

We didn’t linger long, however, as there was a lot more exploring to do. We returned to the “Viewpoint” sign where the trail split, and took the other fork. 2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1329-edit

We followed the trail uphill a short way through increasingly overgrown brush, until it appeared to end at a patch of boulders. We weren’t quite at the summit point, but didn’t see an obvious route to get there and weren’t properly attired for bushwhacking. So we climbed up on the rocks, took some pictures, then started back down.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1333-edit

We retraced our route and returned to the first junction point at 2.4 miles. From here, we turned right to explore the eastern trail.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1365

The trail headed south along the edge of side canyon filled with oaks. I was happy to find that we were travelling away from the road. While this trail had a rather wild feeling to it, the regular hum of cars racing by on highway 78 was a bit of distraction from the otherwise peaceful surroundings.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1366-edit

Before long, the trail bent left and dipped down to cross the small canyon. A couple of small wooden footbridges spanned a dry creek bed. As with most shady waterways in San Diego, this spot had its share of poison oak. It was easily avoided by sticking to the trail, and we were able to pass unscathed. 2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1374-edit

Once across the creek, the trail climbed out of the small canyon.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1376-edit

For the next mile or so, we continued to climb eastward along the flank of the canyon wall. Sadly we did encounter the occasional vandalized rock, but the graffiti along this trail was nowhere near as bad as what we had seen the previous year while hiking North Clevenger Canyon.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1401-edit

I also noticed that the sound of traffic from the road below gradually began to fade as we hiked, until we were finally surrounded by a peaceful silence.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1414-edit

We topped a ridge and spotted our destination in the distance: a small unnamed peak rose above the canyon.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1446-edit

The trail followed the ridgeline towards the peak. 2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1457-edit

As we continued, we spotted an unusual sight: two metal patio chairs perched atop a large granite boulder, and a wooden staircase leading to them.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1460-edit

Just shy of 3.9 mile we came to a small use trail that led up to the chairs. We had to investigate.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1464-edit

The wooden staircase seemed old and weathered, and we took it one person at a time. But it held up, and we found ourselves atop the boulder with the metal chairs. They were held firmly in place, encased in concrete, solidly affixed to the boulder below. We tested out the chairs and they were solid enough, but the sheer drop off the front of the boulder made me a little nervous, and we didn’t linger very long. I personally prefer more natural seating arrangements, like unadulterated boulders. We continued on the trail to the summit.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1465-edit

Around 4 miles we came to another “Viewpoint” sign, with arrows pointing in either direction. 2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1479-edit

The trail to the right wasn’t very discernable, so we took the left fork which curved around to reach the rocky peak. We picked out some nice boulders to sit on and took in the views.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1485-edit

To the east we could see the formidable form of Ramona’s Black Mountain.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1487-edit

In the southeast we could see the Cuyamacas far in the distance.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1486-edit

To the west, just poking up over an unidentified peak in the foreground we could see the distinctive antenna-clad top of Mount Woodson.2016_south_clevenger_canyon-dsc_1491-edit

After relaxing a while and enjoying the scenery, we retraced our route and returned to our car.

View the full photo gallery

From I-15, take the Via Rancho Parkway exit. Head east on Via Rancho Parkway towards the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Wild Animal Park). Continue as Via Rancho Parkway turns into Bear Valley Parkway. Turn right onto San Pasqual Road, then turn right onto Highway 78, still following signs for San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Continue on Highway 78 for 6.7 miles, the staging area will be on the right. map

Total Distance: 6.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1832 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of San Diego Parks & Recreation – San Pasqual – Clevenger Canyon Open Space Park
San Dieguito River Park – Clevenger Canyon
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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