The Manchester Preserve is an island in an urban-suburban setting where endangered species such as the Del Mar manzanita, Orcutt’s hazardia, San Diego thornmint, and California gnatcatcher can thrive. Since the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) took title to Manchester Preserve in 1998, they have strived to keep the area free of invasive non-native plants that might compete with native species. They also encourage public access and understanding of why it is important to stay on the trails to protect the endangered species. That includes keeping dogs on a leash that will protect the plants and keep pets from possible encounters with rattlesnakes. The ongoing challenge is to prevent extirpation of these endangered species. Preserves such as these help researchers to identify the best management practices to keep them viable.
There are several access points into the preserve. This hike begins at the entrance off Calle Ryan, where endangered San Diego thornmint and Orcutt’s hazardia grow. Before descending the steep stone steps, take in the overview of the preserve. On the way down into the canyon, you will encounter a variety of plants. The trails pass through coastal sage scrub and chaparral. For an easier excursion, stay on the interior loop trail, which passes a willow woodland shortly beyond the stone steps. The trails wander among steep, eroded canyon cliffs and provide some fine vistas. The vegetation is dense and gives the feeling of being farther afield than its suburban setting. Spring brings some spectacular flowers.
The spur off the loop up the wooden steps near the Taegan Lane entrance is well worth taking. Note a magnificent mission manzanita on the left as the trail starts to gain in elevation. There are other mission manzanitas and Del Mar manzanitas in the immediate area. Look at the leaves and bark to tell the difference. The leaves of the mission manzanita are oblong, glossy, and dark green on top, while the undersides are lighter and have a velvety texture with edges that curl under when they age. The bark is red-gray and smooth and lighter colored than the Del Mar manzanita, which has red bark and thick leathery, dark gray-green leaves. Continue to the top of the stairs, and pausing to take in the view. On a clear day you can see neighboring hills and mountains. Farther along, the fences are a reminder that you are in a preserve.
Continuing up the rise, there is a utility easement. Here is a great view of the preserve and beyond. If you want to explore more of the preserve than the loop and spur, there is a trail to the left of the metal utility pole that is a bit tricky to find and on a rather steep decline. Otherwise, return to the loop trail.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 25 miles. Allow 40 minutes driving time (Encinitas). Take I-5 N and exit right (east) on Manchester Ave. Stay on this road for 1.8 miles without turning — Manchester Ave. flows into El Camino Real. At 1.8 miles, turn right from El Camino Real onto Calle Ryan and park at the end of the road.
Hiking length: Several out-and-back options of 3 to 4 miles, with an interior loop trail of about 2 miles. Allow 1–2 hours.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Elevation gain/loss depends on trails, but not over 50 feet. Trails undulate and are narrow and rutted with pebbles. Dogs (on leashes) and bicycles allowed. No facilities.