In search of coastal sage scrub

Remnants remain in some of our coastal canyons and in special reserves.

Housing developments, shopping centers, and golf courses have diminished coastal sage scrub habitats.
  • Housing developments, shopping centers, and golf courses have diminished coastal sage scrub habitats.

The coastal sage plant community has been nearly eliminated in San Diego County, replaced by housing developments, shopping centers, business centers, and golf courses. However, remnants remain in some of our coastal canyons and in special reserves. One such remnant, on the Encinitas Ranch, includes a public trail on a coastal ridge that passes through Torrey pines and sage scrub. Take in stunning views of sandstone cliffs and the ocean beyond as it goes past a golf course and to the Magdalena Ecke Open Space Preserve.

Parts of this trail are on sidewalks along high-traffic-volume city streets. Begin walking west up the street, past a Walmart, to Calle Barcelona. Turn left at Calle Barcelona and head to the signal light on Leucadia Blvd., crossing to the south side of this busy road, which then becomes Garden View Road to the south of Leucadia Blvd. A paved trail begins at the southwest corner of the Garden View Rd. and Leucadia Blvd. intersection. The elevation of this paved trail gradually increases as the ridge is climbed. The vegetation on either side of the trail is restored habitat in which coastal sage species such as bush sunflower, San Diego goldenbush, black and white sage, and California sagebrush are thriving with the irrigation provided. There are also a few large scrub oaks and numerous Torrey pines, which may predate the restoration.

After walking roughly 0.5 mile, there will be a bridge crossing Leucadia Blvd. The bridge is primarily for golf carts, but pedestrians can legally walk across it, taking care not to obstruct traffic. Unless you are a member of the Encinitas Ranch Golf Club, do not turn left or enter the course. Instead, immediately turn right once across the bridge and go up the trail to the top of the ridge. Turn left upon reaching the ridge crest. The trail continues through coastal sage scrub with the golf course and scattered eucalyptus trees on the left and rust-colored sandstone cliffs on the right. There are outstanding views to the east, encompassing the extensive housing developments of Encinitas and Carlsbad, as well as west to the ocean. A little over 0.25 mile ahead, the trail crosses the golf course (stay on the trail) and reaches Quail Gardens Dr.

The trail continues on the other side of Quail Gardens Dr., dropping into the Magdalena Ecke Open Space Preserve. Although managed by San Diego County Dept. of Parks and Recreation, the trails are not well marked or maintained. However, they present an opportunity to check out more extensive coastal sage scrub. Return to Quail Gardens Dr. after exploring this area.

To complete the hike, retrace your steps to the intersection of Garden View Rd. and Leucadia Blvd. Cross at the signal where Garden View Rd. becomes Calle Barcelona as it enters Carlsbad and return to your vehicle. Or, for a longer hike of 4.5 miles, an alternate return is possible. After returning to Quail Gardens Dr., head south to Leucadia Blvd. Turn left or east on Leucadia Blvd. and follow it to the signal light on Garden View Rd./Calle Barcelona, returning to where you parked your vehicle.

  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 30 miles. Allow 45 minutes. Take I-5 N 28.5 miles to Encinitas. Exit at Leucadia Blvd. and go 1.5 miles east, making a left turn onto Town Center Place. Find a place to park near REI in the large lot serving the numerous surrounding businesses and restaurants.
  • Hiking length: 3.75 miles out and back.
  • Difficulty: Moderately strenuous due to the 1000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Care must be taken when exposed to heavy traffic. In some areas the trail may be covered with loose sand and gravel, making slipping or falling possible. Trekking poles recommended. Carry water. There are no public facilities other than the restrooms in REI and a neighboring Starbucks in the parking area.

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