Circle Lake Poway on a 3-mile loop trail for hikers and bikers.

In the cool of a spring evening, as the sun arcs toward the western horizon at an ever-later hour (especially after daylight time kicks in on April 7), you can escape from the cares of the day and spend an hour or two at Lake Poway. Gazing at the glassy or wind-rippled surface of the reservoir is pleasing enough. Better yet, you can get some exercise on the three-mile trail circling the lake by means of hiking, running, or biking.

Sixty-acre Lake Poway stores emergency water supplies for northern San Diego County and has for nearly two decades served as a recreational destination. Take Espola Road east from Lake Poway Road to reach the lake and recreation area, open seven days a week (sunrise to sunset) for trail use and picnicking and Wednesday through Sunday for fishing and boating. Parking costs $4, but only for non-Poway residents and only when attendants are on duty to collect the fee.

You can pick up the three-mile loop trail beyond the lake's entrance, on the left (north) side of the developed park area. Along the path ahead, you'll pass through four distinct plant "communities" -- sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland, and riparian woodland -- all exemplary of the county's rocky foothills. Due to scant rainfall so far this season, the landscape has turned a shade of gray-green rather than emerald green -- but some blooming plants, such as monkeyflower, will put on a decent show for the next few weeks, even if we receive no further rain.

Following the well-traveled trail, you traverse scrub-covered slopes above the west shoreline and then drop sharply on switchbacks to a point below the rock-fill dam. There, you meet a wider trail leading downhill to a walk-in campground amid a grove of oaks and farther to the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve. The path that loops around the lake quickly resumes on the east side of the wide trail and starts zigzagging uphill. After gaining about 200 feet, you level out and start winding around the lake's east shore on a wider path. Continue around the shoreline another 1.5 miles to return to the grassy picnic area, boat dock, and parking lot at the lake's entrance.

Call the Lake Poway Recreation Area's ranger office, 858-679-5465, for more information.

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