Ruffin Canyon Open-Space Preserve

The Ruffin Road trailhead begins with a native plant garden in which the plants are named on colorfully painted rocks.
  • The Ruffin Road trailhead begins with a native plant garden in which the plants are named on colorfully painted rocks.

Ruffin Canyon Open Space

Shawn Avenue at Amulet Street, Serra Mesa

Ruffin Canyon is a pleasant surprise that is located only 8 miles from downtown San Diego. There are trailheads to the north or right of the end of Ruffin Road just south of Gramercy Drive plus at the end of Shawn Avenue to the west just past Mission Village Road. There is also an entry on Gramercy south of the bus stop near Pasternack Place.

The Ruffin Road trailhead starts with a native-plant garden with plants named on colorfully painted rocks. The trail then continues along the canyon before dropping down to the bottom via some steps, then continues until there is a fork where the north direction terminates at Gramercy Drive and then backtracks heading south toward Friars Road. Some discovery is needed at the end of the dirt trail to find the streambed to continue south. Depending on the amount of rain, the water can be easily missed in this seasonal stream. Walk on the cobbles with care to pick the stable ones!

Pass the Shawn Avenue side canyon until the double rock concentric circles. Then either return or veer north, continuing on the cobbles toward the west side of the canyon where a dirt road is located further down. Follow the road until it ends, then again follow the streambed. Look back at the entry to the road and up at the canyon rim for landmarks for the return. Veer toward the east side of the canyon to a group of palms where it looks to be the end of the “easily” followed cobbles. Check landmarks to return to the concentric circles and turn north to where the hike started.

The Shawn Avenue trailhead starts to the north side of the canyon and follows a wide section past a group of cattails before merging to the main section of Ruffin Canyon. Evergreen plants include lemonade berry, laurel sumac, toyon, and palms. Seasonal blooms include purple nightshade, wild cucumber, fuchsia-flowering gooseberry, agave, virgin’s bower, and black sage.

The seasonal tributary of the San Diego River road and trails can be a challenge to follow. It is highly recommended to continue looking at your back trail and rim for landmarks for the return to the starting point. Use trekking poles to stabilize on the round cobbles for an enjoyable walk.

An activity schedule that includes restoration dates with the Friends of Ruffin Canyon is found at:

Distance from downtown San Diego: 8 miles. Allow 20 minutes driving time. From I-15, exit west on Aero Dr. then go south on Ruffin Rd. Cross Gramercy Dr. at the east side of Taft Middle School. No facilities.

Hiking length: Ruffin Rd. to Gramercy Dr. and a return is approximately 2.5 miles; a second hike from Shawn Ave. is also approximately 2.5 miles.

Difficulty: Intermediate; up to 1000 feet elevation change. Trekking poles plus ankle supported hiking boots are recommended for walking in a streambed lined with cobbles. Steep steps in places.

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