Daley Ranch: from Kumeyaay harvest ground to Robert Daley’s illegal squatting

Coyote Run and Diamondback are popular trails

Look for trap door spiders but don’t disturb them
  • Look for trap door spiders but don’t disturb them

Daley Ranch

3024 La Honda Drive, Escondido

The Daley Ranch in Escondido offers a little bit of heaven for all of its visitors. Hikers, bikers, and equestrians can find trails that vary from easy to difficult, dirt to paved, narrow to wide. Dogs are welcome, but owners need to keep them leashed, both for the safety of their pets and that of the many animals that call this place home. The ranch has over 25 miles of trails that offer adventure, beauty, exercise, and the opportunity to see wildlife up close. Typically seen are western fence lizards hugging the side of the trail, many varieties of birds — including scrub jays, acorn woodpeckers, red tail hawks — and the occasional rattler and tarantula crossing the trails.

Sometimes, if you are quiet and observant, you’ll see coyotes and deer. Bobcats, mountain lions, and other critters are very wary and seldom seen. Arrive early for hassle-free parking and better wildlife opportunities. The ranch is open sunrise to sundown. Potential hazards include heat (bring and drink plenty of water), mountain bikes, ticks, rattlesnakes, steep trails, mountain lions, and poison oak.

A young rattlesnake soaking in some morning sun

A young rattlesnake soaking in some morning sun

The Kumeyaay were the original inhabitants of most of San Diego County. They lived and harvested various plants and animals on what was to become Daley Ranch for more than 10,000 years. Other Native American tribes, such as the Luiseño, also visited Daley Ranch. These original stewards of the land had a light impact on it, and the evidence of their lives is elusive, consisting of small artifacts, milling sites, and pictographs. Most of the hundreds of visitors who hike/ride/bike the trails each week are unaware of this history or legacy.

The modern era of the ranch began in 1868, when 23-year old English immigrant Robert Daley illegally squatted here before later homesteading 160 acres and acquiring legal title. Together with his wife, Rebecca, he built a dairy, ran beef cattle, planted an orchard, and tried various other enterprises. He prospered. Then, around 1910, his two sons moved to San Diego to start a road construction business that would grow to become the largest construction company in San Diego County. The City acquired the approximately 3,100-acre ranch in 1997 to be used as a mitigation bank for the value of its plants and wildlife. Recreation is a fortuitous bonus use of the land.

Everyone has their favorite trail at Daley, and the one offered here is actually a combination of trail segments that offers just enough physical challenge, with a combination of uphill, level, and downhill segments. It includes narrow, intimate trails like Coyote Run and Diamondback, and wide, sociable Jeep roads, mostly dirt but with nearly a mile of paved road (occasionally used by ranch vehicles). The views of surrounding and distant foothills are stunning. On semi-cloudy winter mornings, when the valley is socked in with fog, the surrounding mountain tops often rise above the fog like sky islands.

This route is rich with animals and plants. It passes through several distinct habitats: scrub with its sages, buckwheat, laurel sumac, yucca, cacti, and mariposa lilies; grasslands with Englemann and coast live oaks, and the occasional blue-eyed grass (watch for flowers in early spring); chaparral with its ceanothus, toyon, scrub oak, manzanita, mountain mahogany, and star lilies; riparian with its mule fat, western sycamore, willow, and cattails; and oak woodlands with understory plants such as poison oak near the ranch house. (The Canyoneers will be happy to point out all of these to visitors during the many walks offered here and throughout San Diego County.)

Begin by taking the Creek Crossing trail 0.66 mile to East Ridge Trail (the trail crosses Jack Creek, which is dry in all but the wettest years), then follow East Ridge 0.17 mile to its intersection with Sage Trail. Follow Sage 0.79 mile and turn onto Coyote Run Trail (one of the best sections of this loop). Follow the Coyote Run Trail until it intersects with Diamondback Trail, and turn right. Diamondback ends in 0.41 mile at Sage Trail (turn left). Follow Sage 0.82 mile to Jack Creek Meadow Trail, and turn left for 0.11 mile to reach Ranch House Road. There is a nice restroom tucked behind trees on the left side of the road, just before the pavement begins. Follow Ranch House Road to the trailhead (0.82 mile) to return to your vehicle.

Pat yourself on the back for a hike well done! If you want to support this beautiful open space preserve, consider joining the Friends of Daley Ranch at www.fodr.org or contacting the ranger staff for volunteer opportunities.

Coyote Run Loop Daley Ranch map

Coyote Run Loop Daley Ranch map


Peace of mind, exercise, and beautiful views are found here.

  • Driving directions: (Escondido) From I-15, exit east on El Norte Parkway and drive 3.1 miles. Turn left (north) on La Honda Drive and drive 1.3 miles. The address is 3024 La Honda Road. The parking area for the Daley Ranch is on the left. To the right is Dixon Lake with restrooms, water, and picnic areas. Hiking length: 4 miles out-and-back. Difficulty: Moderate, with 600 feet of elevation gain. Bicycles, equestrians, and dogs allowed on the trail. Download a trail map or pick one up at the information kiosk at the trailhead, located at the northeast end of the parking area.

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A point of clarification in this piece is that the city that bought Daley Ranch is the City of Escondido. Buying up that property before it was developed is one of the best things that city has ever done. The trails on the ranch are getting deeply rutted in many areas, and along with being very rocky in spots, can be hard going for hikers and mountain bikers. Last Sunday we hiked in Daley, but accessed it from the west entrance on Cougar Pass Road. (That's not to be recommended unless you have a high clearance vehicle--the road has some rough going.) That entrance attracts a few equestrians, but is usually fairly quiet, unlike the La Honda entrance which often is very busy. There's another entrance on the east side, off East Valley Parkway, close to the Escondido Humane Society. A total of three different access points offers plenty of variety of trails, scenery, and degree of use.

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