Tecolote Canyon is one of many canyons and open space areas within the City of San Diego. Tucked away behind houses, businesses, and golf courses, these canyons provide refuge to both humans who want to escape the city atmosphere for a morning jog or afternoon stroll, as well as countless birds and other wildlife seeking a suitable habitat in our increasingly urban world.
Tecolote Canyon actually has several disconnected sections separated by major roads. Its possible to hike the canyon from end to end by traversing some side streets at these points, however the canyon is large enough that each section can be hiked on its own and still provide a trek of respectable length.
For this adventure, we hiked the south portion of the canyon from the Tecolote Nature Center to Genesse Avenue and back (map of Tecolote Canyon trails). The Center was unfortunately closed while we were there, but the courtyard was still open, allowing access to the restrooms and drinking fountain.
We passed through the entryway alongside the Nature Center and trudged through the deep gravel that covered the first part of the trail. To our right was a fenced off section of the Nature Center containing what looked like a native garden or plant exhibit. To the left the trail was thick brush obscuring a probably dry creek bed, and residences on the other side.
The gravel quickly gave way to dirt and thick brush lined both sides of the trail. At .1 mile, a side trail branched off to the right. The sign indicated this was the “Battle Trail,” named in honor of Eloise Battle, one of the citizens who helped establish Tecolote Canyon as a natural preserve. We ended up staying on the main trail, but it looked like the Battle Trail eventually met up again with the main path, so it might be worth investigating if you’re looking for a bit of variety.
The trail gradually began to turn to the left. At about .85 miles we crossed under some power lines, and an access road to the right let up to the USD campus. Based on the amount of cigarette butts and other trash in the vicinity, I think its a safe assumption that this is a popular party spot.
At about 1.3 miles, we came upon the edge of the Tecolote Golf course on our left.Just beyond was a fork in the road. We stayed to the left, the right branch headed steeply up the hill, following the course of the power lines.
Unless you’re a huge fan of power lines or golf courses, the next mile or so doesn’t have a lot to offer. As we went on, I honestly began to question my choice of trails and wonder if we should just turn around and call it quits. Fortunately, I’m ridiculously
stubborn perseverant and we continued on.
We started off following the path that ran along the fence on the edge of the golf course, but the path periodically converged with the access road along the power lines. Both routes were pretty steep and involved a lot of up and down. The scenery here may be lacking, but this could definitely make for a good cardio workout. You can do like we did and mix it up between the narrower path along the fence, which is a bit more level, and the steeper, wider, access road, but you’ll want to make sure you’re to the left as you approach the end of the golf course. The easiest route is to just stay along the fence as much as possible.
The trail eventually wound down to a narrow single track as we approached the end of the golf course, and around 2.2 miles we we came to an idyllic oak grove surrounding a dry creek bed. If you stay on the service road along the power lines, I’m pretty sure you’ll completely miss this spot.
An enormous oak tree overhanging the dry creek had a rope swing hanging from it. Perhaps this is a popular spot when there’s water in the creek. On our visit, though, we only encountered a handful of runners and mountain bikers making their way through the canyon.
We were in the thick of the canyon at this point. No houses or buildings could be seen and no traffic could be heard. My previous misgivings about the trail had completely vanished, and I was thrilled to have found such a quiet and tranquil spot in the middle of the city.
Around 3 miles, the path moved away from the creek and began to climb uphill. The terrain was more exposed here, the towering oak trees having been replaced with chaparral brush. We passed another access trail that (based on the map) looks like it led up to Boyd Ave. We continued on the main trail.
Based on the increasing amount of trash and empty beer containers, I knew we were getting close to the road. Sure enough, at around 3.4 miles, we found ourselves standing at another trail head on Genesse Ave. Traffic whizzed by, the drivers probably wondering what the heck we were doing there on the side of the road.
We took our pictures and happily returned to the canyon for our trek back to the starting point.
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From I-5 take the Sea World Drive/Tecolote Road Exit. Go east on Tecolote Road to the end (about 1/2 a mile) to find the Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and Nature Center. map
|Total Distance:||6.75 miles|
|Difficulty:||Easy – Moderate|
|Total Ascent:||750 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Bathrooms and drinking fountain at Nature Center|