Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural ReserveTorrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the most well known hiking destinations in San Diego. It is home to the rare Torrey Pine tree, which grows only in San Diego and Santa Rosa island. The Reserve was originally established in 1899 as a public City park, and throughout the years has been expanded and received increased protection for the unique and diverse plants and creatures living there.

There are a number of short trails at Torrey Pines, all of which provide some spectacular views of the geological artistry and uniquely shaped trees that permeate the area. You can view the Reserve’s trail map and devise your own route, or follow the route I describe below to hit most of the major highlights.

The morning of our hike was overcast and a bit muggy. We parked at the Beach Trail parking area, across the road from the Visitor’s Center. Our plan was to hike back down the road to the Guy Fleming trail we’d passed driving in and hike that loop. Then we’d go down the Razor Point trail and view the vista there, then south to Yucca Point, and backtrack to the Beach Trail. After going down to the water and having a snack, we would hike back up the Broken Hill trail, connect to the South Fork Trail, and finally take the paved path back to the parking area. This seemed to be the longest loop we could discern that would take us to the most interesting places.

The first stop on our multi-trail tour was the Guy Fleming trail. Named for Guy Fleming, the “John Muir of Torrey Pines” who was instrumental in preservation of the Park, this is an easy ⅔ mile trail.Trail head for the Guy Fleming trail at Torrey Pines

To get to the trail head, we left the parking lot and walked back down the main road about a third of a mile. The trail forms a loop so we headed clockwise. The Reserve’s namesake Torrey Pine trees were scattered along the trail side, along with typical coastal sage scrub plants including sage and chamise.The Guy Fleming trail at Torrey Pines

We also spotted the occasional coastal prickly pear cactus and mojave yucca. You don’t normally expect to find succulents growing on the beach, but Torrey Pines has a lot of interesting surprises.Mojave yucca at Torrey Pines

Before long we came to a set of stairs leading down to a viewing area where we got some nice views of the ocean and surrounding cliffs.The spectacular view at Torrey Pines

The trail continued along a scenic bluff before heading down to another viewing area, this one offering views of the beach and road below us to the north.View from Torrey Pines

Back on the trail we entered the thick of the North Grove where the bonsai like pine trees, shaped by forceful coastal winds, grew right along the trail.Entering the North Grove along the Guy Fleming Trail at Torrey Pines

As the path wrapped back towards our starting point, we walked through the quiet coastal forest noticing how the trees on this side grew higher and straighter behind the shelter of the hill.

Torrey Pines along the Guy Fleming trail

We passed some exposed outcroppings of sandstone, and soon found ourselves back at the start of the trail.Wind sculpted sandstone at Torrey Pines Reserve

We headed back up the road for our next leg. We would like to have done the short Parry Grove trail, however it was closed while work was being done to repair some erosion damage.

We got back to the Beach area parking lot where the path down to the beach began. We took a quick detour to the right to view the West Overlook, then made our way to the main trail. This is probably the most popular section of the very popular park, so we were constantly passing and being passed by other hikers. San Diegans know a good hike when they find one!Heading towards Red Butte at Torrey Pines

We headed downhill for about a quarter of a mile and came upon Red Butte, a rock promontory which allowed some nice unobstructed views of the surrounding area.Hikers enjoy the view from Red Butte at Torrey Pines

We continued downhill, taking the right branch at each intersection to make our way towards Razor Point. Along the way we had a constant supply of breathtaking views to occupy us. View from the Razor Point trail at Torrey Pines

Almost every turn we made revealed another view of worn sandstone cliffs sculpted by endless years of coastal winds. To the northwest, we could see our aptly named destination jutting out from the trail.Razor Point at Torrey Pines

The trail wound its way steadily downhill, and we got some nice views of the beautifully eroded cliffs as we made the final turn to reach Razor Point.View of Big Basin from the Razor Point trail at Torrey Pines

Once we reached Razor Point, we found a fenced in viewing area which prevented us from going too near the heavily eroded edges, but we had a great view nonetheless.View from Razor Point at Torrey Pines

After enjoying the overlook, we retraced our path back to the previous intersection and proceeded south and then west towards Yucca Point.View of Yucca Point at Torrey Pines

At Yucca Point, the trail formed a loop which provided yet more awesome views of the coastline. We could see the next stop on our journey to the south – the end of the beach trail and the appropriately named Flat Rock.The view from Yucca Point at Torrey Pines

We also spotted a recently launched paraglider. I’m sure its fun, but I’ll stick to hiking and other activities which involve my feet maintaining contact with the ground.A paraglider soars over Torrey Pines

From the Yucca Point overlook, we backtracked up to where we could connect with the Beach Trail, and descended towards the water. This stretch was densely populated and we encountered an almost constant stream of people.The busy Beach Trail at Torrey Pines

The final descent to the beach brought us up close with Nature’s artistryThe wind sculpted cliffs of Torrey Pines

A narrow staircase brought us down to the beach.The narrow staircase leading to the beach at Torrey Pines

The beach provided a good spot to rest and have a snack (food is allowed on the beach, just not the rest of the Reserve) while we admired the evocative erosion around us.The beach at Torrey Pines

The beach at Torrey Pines

After enjoying the surf, it was back up the stairs again, where we turned right to ascend the Broken Hill Trail. We got some more nice views of the beach below us before the trail turned eastward and began to climb. We wound our way up through the brush.Climbing the Broken Hill Trail at Torrey Pines

Although the scenery along this stretch wasn’t quite as great as before when we were looking out towards the ocean, we still got some nice views of the carved cliffs topped with the distinctive Torrey Pines. The view facing inland as we climbed the Broken Hill Trail

Finally, as we approached the top of our climb, we found the spur trail which led to Broken Hill Overlook.The spur trail leading to Broken Hill Overlook

We followed the short trail to the end, and were rewarded with some more breathtaking views.Broken Hill at Torrey Pines

Awesome views can be found in every direction at Broken Hill overlook at Torrey Pines

Awesome views can be found in every direction at Broken Hill overlook at Torrey Pines

We returned to the main trail, and took the South Fork Trail on the penultimate leg of our journey. The brush grew fairly high along this trail, and it was noticeably less populated than the previous trail sections we had traversed. We saw considerably more birds along the trail here, no doubt due to the relative solitude. In the distance to the southeast we could see the world famous Torrey Pines Golf Course.The South Fork trail at Torrey Pines

The South Fork Trail soon ended and we found ourselves on a cement path, which we learned was actually part of the original Highway 101.The original Highway 101 runs through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

We followed the former highway for about half a mile, and found ourselves back at the parking lot where we had started.

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Directions:
From I-5 take the Carmel Valley Road exit. Head west on Carmel Valley Road. Turn left onto S Camino Del Mar (turns into N Torrey Pines Rd). Continue ahead to the Torrey Pines Reserve on your right, pay your parking fee, and follow the road to the upper parking areas. map

Total Distance: 5 miles
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Elevation Change: 945 feet
Best Time of Year: Year Round
Dog Friendly: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly: No bikes allowed
Facilities: Bathroom and drinking fountain in parking lot
Fees/Permits: $10-$15 per vehicle (varies by day and season – more info)

For more information visit:
California State Parks – Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

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