Leisurely loop around Dixon Lake, with wildflowers

Perched several hundred feet up on a rocky slope north of Escondido, Dixon Lake stores drinking water and serves as a recreational resource as well. The lake’s camping facilities, picnic grounds, playgrounds, boat rentals, hiking trails, and fishing opportunities are enough to draw a steady stream of visitors seven days a week.

To get there from San Diego, exit Interstate 15 at El Norte Parkway in north Escondido. Drive three miles east and make a left turn (north) on La Honda Drive. Drive one mile uphill to the end of the road, where you will find the Dixon Lake entry station. (Just short of the lake entrance, you’ll notice the parking lot/staging area for the Daley Ranch preserve, which these days is a major magnet for hikers and mountain bikers.)

Dixon Lake itself offers just enough trail mileage to make a stop here worthwhile for hikers. Using paths along the shoreline and a dirt access road that swings upward onto a slope, you can piece together a leisurely loop offering consistently nice views of the lake, plus more distant vistas of the mini-metropolis of Escondido and (sometimes) the coastal cities and ocean beyond. In recent years, trail maintenance has been scarce at Dixon Lake, and some former designated footpaths have disappeared. Nevertheless, the following route should work.

Just beyond the entry station, find and follow the Jack Creek Trail, which goes south past a grassy picnic area, descends steeply to join the strip of riparian vegetation alongside trickling Jack Creek, and emerges at Dixon Lake’s northernmost cove (0.2 mile into the hike). Along the way you’ll notice several common native plants — buckwheat, manzanita, chamise, California sagebrush, black sage, ceanothus, laurel sumac, toyon, willow, and live oak — and some non-native (planted) acacia and eucalyptus trees. The flowering of blue-blossoming ceanothus shrubs may be over by now, but the delicate, red monkey flower plants should remain in bloom at least through May.

Once you reach the cove — a serene spot with a great view of the lake’s placid waters — stay left, following the Shoreline Trail. You pass a fishing pier, and probably plenty of folks fishing from the lakeshore itself. After 1.1 miles total (or 0.9 mile along the shoreline), further travel is prohibited in the direction of the dam ahead. Follow the dirt road, however, that sinuously climbs the slope to the left. On it, you enjoy an ever-widening view of the distant landscape. The road crests at a point 250 feet higher than the surface of the lake, and drops a little to a junction with another dirt road on the left (1.8 miles). Turn left, descend to the next road junction (2.1 miles), and make a right turn to head straight back to your starting point.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

Dixon Lake
Ramble along Dixon Lake’s shoreline in the hills above Escondido.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 36 miles
Hiking Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: Easy

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