The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve is a popular North County hiking and mountain biking destination. The Reserve is home to the Olivenhain Reservoir and is owned and operated by the Olivenhain Municipal Water District. There are 11 miles of trail that pass through oak riparian, oak woodland, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral habitats providing a nice variety of scenery. The Escondido Creek flows year-round through the lower section of the Reserve, making a beautiful photo or picnic spot for those seeking a less challenging outing. For those who want to work up a little sweat, there is the Way Up Trail which leads to the upper section of the Reserve.
We were interested in the more challenging option, so on a cloudy post-storm Saturday we set out to hike the Way Up Trail and continue on to the Lake Hodges Overlook on the eastern side of the Reserve. We started at the large kiosk across from the bathrooms. A sign at the top directed us to the left for the Way Up Trail.
In about 100 feet there was a 3-way junction. To the left was the Botanical Trail, which we would return on. For now, we continued straight, crossing a bridge that spanned the idyllic Escondido Creek.
Once across the creek, the Way Up Trail did not disappoint, and immediately began to ascend. There was a charming metal trail marker on the side of the trail – the first in a series that would mark our progress as we made our way up.
It was a beautiful day for hiking. There had been some rain the previous day, so the trail was damp and hard-packed. Everything was lush and green, and here and there we spotted a few wildflowers starting to bloom.
We started up a set of switchbacks that zigged and zagged up the hill side. Periodically, a light drizzle would fall upon us. It wasn’t enough to make us break out the rain gear but we did have to cover the cameras between shots.
At 1.25 miles, the Me-Xal trail branched off to the right, and just a bit further beyond there was another junction for the Equine Incline Trail. We continued straight past both these turn-offs, but made note of the other trails for future exploration.
At 1.4 miles, just as we passed under some power lines, we came to a large 4-way intersection. The path straight ahead led Ridgetop Picnic Area, where one can find port-a-potties and drinking water if needed.
A short way up the narrow Quail Trail branched off to the left. This was an alternate, meandering route to the top of the hill, and we decided we’d explore it on the way down. For now we continued straight up the wide road.
Upon reaching the top of the hill, we found another 4-way intersection. To the left was the other end of the Quail Trail, and straight ahead was the park boundary and a trail heading towards the Del Dios Highlands Preserve. The latter route went on the list for another day as we turned right.
At 2.67 miles we came to the start of the Lake Hodges Overlook Loop, where we could go either right or left. Left was the quickest route to the Overlook, so we decided to go right as weren’t quite ready for a break yet.
At 3 miles, there was an unmarked fork heading up to the left. From the trail map, it appeared this route bisected a longer loop, offering a direct route to the Overlook. We continued downhill to the right.
The clouds continued to look ominous, but the drizzle had stopped and we were able to just enjoy the dramatic skies. Post rain hikes are awesome not just because of the skies, but the colors of the moistened earth and surrounding plants always seem more vibrant after a rain.
We reached the viewing area and found two covered benches, one facing each direction. To the west was the Olievnhain Reservoir, and to the east was Lake Hodges. We could make out the shapes of tiny little boats and fishermen on the water’s surface.
We relaxed on one of the benches, eating some snacks and enjoying the views. A family with two young children occupied the other bench, and I was impressed that their small kids had made it up here. Once we’d finished our break, we set off again, continuing north.
Some gorgeous wildflowers were just starting to make their appearance as well.
The trail made its way along the creek for a short way, and then it was time to cross. While there was a nice sturdy bridge at the start of the trail, here we had to do it the old fashioned way and hop across a series of rocks. While I have no issues with getting myself wet, we carry a rather embarrassing amount of expensive camera gear while hiking, so it was with great caution that we made our way over the rocks.
From here it was just a short stroll back to the parking lot.
From I-15 take the Valley Parkway exit and go west on West Valley Parkway. Turn right onto Avenida Del Diablo and continue for approximately .6 mile. Turn right onto Citricado Parkway, which turns left and becomes Harmony Grove Village Parkway. Turn left onto Harmony Grove Road and continue for 2.2 miles to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve on your left. The parking lot is small, so you may need to park on the side of the road or in the overflow parking area. map
|Total Distance:||7.1 miles|
|Total Ascent:||1542 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed; certain areas are off-leash on weekdays|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Port-a-potties and drinking fountain in parking area and at approximately 1.4 miles|
For more information, visit:
Escondido Creek Conservancy: Elfin Forest Recreation Reserve
Olivenhain Municipal Water District: Elfin Forest Recreation Reserve
View route or download GPX in CalTopo