This hike is a step back in time where one can see a reconstructed ranch house originally built in a style reflecting California’s ranching past. Hike through a meadow with bunch grasses taller than most people and see an array of native birds, including California quail, mourning doves, ravens, red-tailed hawks, western scrub jays, woodpeckers, and many others. Depending on the season of your visit, the hillsides may be painted a deep blue by thousands of blooming California lilacs, or you may be greeted by an array of colors from bush monkey flowers, blue-eyed grass, or hundreds of other wildflowers. The cobbled streambeds have seasonal water with small groupings of palm trees and chaparral plants lining the canyon.
Daley Ranch has 25 miles of named and signed trails. Many of these are loops that explore a particular ranch feature. The trails interconnect, so there is a variety of ways to get to the Jack Creek Meadow Loop Trail. The route described here is the most direct, though not necessarily the most scenic. From the dirt parking lot off La Honda Dr., go through the Daley Ranch gate and continue north on the paved Ranch House Road. The pavement continues until you reach the Ranch House. Some of the best displays of chaparral wildflowers on the ranch can be found along the roadsides, so keep your eyes open. The road also goes through an Engelmann and coast live oak woodland. The ranch house is not open to the public at this time, but it is set in an oak grove with picnic tables and benches under the shade of the trees. It is a good place to rest, have a picnic, and to water your horse if you brought one.
The Jack Creek Meadow Trail begins just beyond the ranch house after the pavement ends, about 1 mile from the parking area. The west branch of this loop trail goes straight across the meadow, more or less paralleling Jack Creek. It goes through a field of amazingly tall perennial bunch grass. After hiking a mile through the meadow, the trail goes up a short hill and into chaparral. The ranch and the trail both end at a fence a half mile ahead. Once you reach the fence, go right, across the stream (which may be dry), and then head south on the east leg of the Loop Trail. This route goes through patches of oak woodland, alternating with chaparral and grassland, and it looks out over the meadow instead of hiking through it.
Return to the ranch house after completing the 3-mile Jack Creek Meadow Loop Trail. From here, walk back down the Ranch House Road to reach to your car.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 40 miles. Allow 1 hour driving time. From I-15, exit on El Norte Parkway, then go east 3 miles to La Honda Drive. Turn left on La Honda and drive about 1 mile to the dirt parking lot on your left. Parking is free for the ranch, with portable toilets available at the start of the hike and at the Ranch House. Parking for a fee is available at Dixon Lake with better facilities further to the right. No water on trails.
Hiking length: 5 miles. Hikers have right-of-way over bicycles.
Difficulty: Easy with well-marked, nearly flat trails.