Tecolote Canyon (South)

The Tecolote Nature CenterTecolote 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.

Beginning of the Tecolote Canyon trailWe 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 Tecolote Canyon trail

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 Tecolote Canyon trail

As we continued along, we could see the ornate blue dome and white buildings of the University of San Diego on the canyon rim to our right. Promptly at 8 o’clock, the sound of bells could be heard.View of University of San Diego from Tecolote Canyon

Around 1/3 of a mile in, we passed an enormous sycamore tree overhanging a bench, providing a relaxing spot to sit and rest if you want to wait for some wildlife to happen by.A large sycamore tree hangs over a bench in Tecolote Canyon

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.An access road leads to the USD campus from Tecolote Canyon

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.The path splits as we approach the golf course

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.Hiking along the fence adjacent to the golf course at Tecolote Canyon

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 awesome oak grove lies deep within Tecolote Canyon

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.A rope swing hangs from a large oak tree

Somewhat reluctantly, we left the small oak forest and continued on. At 2.4 miles the trail intersected with a service road. We continued straight, roughly following the course of the creek.Intersection with the service road, just beyond the oak grove

For the next half mile or so, the trail followed along the dry creek bed, even crossing it in a couple of places.The Tecolote Canyon trail runs along the creek

Eventually we even found some water!Standing water in the Tecolote Canyon creek

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.Solitude can be found deep within Tecolote Canyon

We found a few cool critters to photograph deep in the canyon, including a swallowtail butterfly:A swallowtail butterfly

And this little guy we couldn’t identify:An unidentified moth

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. Access trail leading from Tecolote Canyon to a local neighborhood

The path headed back towards the creek again, and once again we had some trees to shade us for a bit.More trees shade the canyon path

At 3.25 mile we came to an intersection and turned left.Nearing the road on the Tecolote Canyon 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. Tecolote Canyon trail head along Genesse Avenue

We took our pictures and happily returned to the canyon for our trek back to the starting point.

View the full photo gallery

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
Fees/Permits: None

For more information visit:
City of San Diego Parks & Recreation – Tecolote Canyon Natural Park and Nature Center
Trail Map

2 thoughts on “Tecolote Canyon (South)

  1. Do you have to cross Balboa Ave?

    • Hi Joel,

      For this route we stayed in the southern section of the canyon that does not reach Balboa. If you look at the trail map, we started by Tecolote Community Park and turned around at Genesee (across from Kearny Mesa Community Park). We haven’t hiked the northern portion but it does look like you’ll have to cross Balboa for that.