A North County hike into San Diego history

This segment of the San Dieguito River Park crosses an agricultural preserve.

Avocado and citrus farms are in the agricultural preserve
  • Avocado and citrus farms are in the agricultural preserve

The San Pasqual Valley has continuous, completed segments of the planned, 55-mile-long, Coast to Crest Trail of the San Dieguito River Park. When finally realized, the Coast to Crest Trail will extend from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the coast at Del Mar. The San Pasqual Valley segment of the Coast to Crest trail provides access to a fascinating part of San Diego’s history and a chance to explore the San Pasqual Agricultural Preserve, as well as some of the natural areas contained within it. However, some of the segments are very long in distance with just a few access points. Also, camping is not allowed anywhere in this part of the park, so an overnight is out of the question. The best way to explore this area is through a series of out-and-back hikes within the area starting from the various staging areas that include the San Pasqual Valley Staging Area at Bandy Canyon Road, Ysabel Creek Road Staging Area, Old Coach Staging Area, and the Mule Hill Trailhead at the Sikes Adobe Staging Area. This article looks at an out-and-back hike from the eastern end of the valley beginning at the San Pasqual Valley Staging Area.

Begin hiking west from the trailhead, with Santa Ysabel Creek on your right and a large citrus grove on your left. The creek bed is choked with typical riparian vegetation, including arroyo willows, Freemont cottonwoods, mule fat, scattered sycamore trees, and even a few California black walnut trees. The creek is a haven for wildlife, particularly birds. In half a mile the trail makes a sharp turn south, leaving the creek. As it continues along the western boarder of the citrus grove, the view on the right is of a large turf grass farm. After walking another half a mile the trail turns west again and now follows Bandy Canyon Road. You will pass abandoned buildings and a recently closed dairy, all signs of the rapidly changing nature of farming in this Agricultural Preserve. Once the source of milk for most of San Diego, now only one operational dairy remains in the preserve.

Although there are many non-native invasive species on this segment of the hike, including eucalyptus, Mexican fan palms, tamarisk, and Indian cactus, there are also many hardy native species, including climbing milkweed, salt heliotrope, wild grape, tree tobacco, flat top buckwheat, black sage, prickly pear cactus, and deer weed.

At the Ysabel Creek Staging Area, turn around to complete the 6-mile out-and-back hike.

  • Distance from downtown San Diego: About 36 miles. Allow 40 minutes. Go north on I-15 to Escondido. Exit at Via Rancho Parkway and follow the signs for San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, which will place you on SR 78 going east. After passing the Safari Park’s entrance, continue on SR 78 an additional 3.4 miles to Bandy Canyon Road. Turn right on Bandy Canyon Road and then make an almost immediate right turn onto a gravel road. Follow it north, then west for about 0.1 mile to the San Pasqual Valley Trailhead and Staging Area.
  • Hiking length: 6 miles out-and-back.
  • Difficulty: Easy over almost flat ground. The trail is open to hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and leashed dogs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but motorized vehicles are banned. There are no facilities or water at this trailhead or on the trail, so plan accordingly. Watch for patches of poison oak along streams.

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