San Dieguito River Park, Highland Valley Trail

The Highland Valley Trail travels east along the grasslands.

After the arch, the Highland Valley Trail travels east along the grasslands near the south shore of Lake Hodges.
  • After the arch, the Highland Valley Trail travels east along the grasslands near the south shore of Lake Hodges.

The Highland Valley Trail is part of the San Dieguito River Park trail system. Eventually it will extend 55 miles from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the Pacific Ocean at Del Mar. The Highland Valley Trail is not part of the main trail but a subsidiary trail that extends into a scenic part of the San Pasqual Valley Agricultural Preserve.

This is a great hike to do with your kids. If you are planning to bring children, be sure to visit the San Dieguito River Park website and download the Ruth Merrill Children’s Interpretive Walk brochure. There are 15 Discovery Posts, numbered 1 to 15, scattered along the first 1.5 miles of the 2-mile-long trail. The posts only have numbers. You need the guide to discover the natural feature you are asked to consider. For example, Discovery Post #2 focuses our attention on water and the river, emphasizing its importance for wildlife. It also asks us to stop and look for evidence of wild animals, such as footprints (tracks), scat, or bird calls, and illustrates the tracks of several animals that can be found here.

The trail contours along the hillside, just above Highland Valley Road, for three quarters of its length. It is well maintained, not too long, and with little elevation gain or loss. It is an easy stroll through grassland interspersed with periodic oak woodland, riparian habitat, or patches of coastal sage scrub. The oaks include not only coast live oak but also the occasional Engelmann oak, while the riparian habitat includes mule fat and arroyo willows, occasionally festooned with poison oak or native grapevines. Wildflowers in season may include lupines, phacelia, baby blue eyes, as well as several kinds of flowering shrubs such as bush monkeyflower, goldenbush, and buckwheat. The trail also presents beautiful pastoral vistas of farms, hills, and the river valley.

About half a mile into the hike, the trail crosses a bridge spanning an intermittent stream that flows through an oak forest. After hiking 1.46 miles, the trail turns up Sycamore Creek and follows a gravel road for another half a mile. It ends in an oak grove where there is a picnic table and a few benches. It is a shady respite where you can enjoy lunch or a snack before heading back to your auto.

  • Take the kids on this easy hike through scenic habitats.
  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 26 miles. Allow 30 minutes driving time (Escondido). From CA-163 N, merge onto I-15 to the Pomerado Rd/West Rancho Bernardo Rd exit. Go east on Pomerado Road a short distance and make a left turn onto Highland Valley Road. It is the first traffic light after leaving the freeway exit. The trailhead is on the right, about 100 feet from the traffic light. There is ample parking and the trailhead is well marked.
  • Hiking length: 4 miles out-and-back.
  • Difficulty: Easy hike with about 100 feet elevation loss/gain. Dogs on leashes are allowed as well as horses. No facilities.

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