The City of La Mesa has launched a program called City Walks and Urban Trails as part of their Urban Trails Mobility Action Plan as a way to help connect the community. One of these hikes, known as “The Stride,” starts at Jackson Park and connects La Mesita Park to the eastern edge of Lake Murray. If you are familiar with the area, start at either La Mesita or Lake Murray, but if this is your first time in the area, Jackson Park is in the middle and a great place to start in order to complete the round trip.
As this is primarily an urban walk, take a moment to appreciate how La Mesa rolls though the landscape, accommodating both the hills and hidden canyons, as well as how the community developed on top of a mesa that lends the city its name. The vegetation you will find also matches the slightly drier and warmer climate one finds as you start to move inland from the ocean. The area reflects both native coastal sage scrub species and a selection of ornamental heat- or drought-tolerant plants that thrive in the city.
As the name of this walk—“The Stride”— implies, this route is paved (clear sidewalk) and ideal for striding, jogging, or pushing a stroller. From Jackson Park, leave the shady alcove of the park and head north on Jackson Drive. Keep your eye out for native plants like the frost-intolerant laurel sumac, but also for the small waxy leaves of native and non-native plants that are adapted to periodic drought conditions. On this route you will see an assortment of succulent plants, like agaves and jade plants. Some flowering ornamentals, such as the bird of paradise, hibiscus, jasmine, and roses stand out on this route. There are also crepe myrtle, eucalyptus, jacaranda, mulberry, magnolia, palm, and pine trees. Of the drought-tolerant yet ornamentally grown plants, juniper varieties are of particular note. Some have been trimmed to form hedges, while others have achieved treelike heights.
At the corner of Jackson Drive and El Paso Street, look for the stalks of the century plants growing on the hills. Note: if you want a protected crosswalk, cross Jackson at El Paso; otherwise, continue to Dallas Street. At Dallas, go right and head east to La Mesita Park. Along the way you will find one of La Mesa’s hidden staircases, near a fence with bougainvillea and shaded by pepper trees. The main entrance (or exit, depending on whether you use the staircase or the driveway to enter and leave the park) features agaves and succulents.
After visiting La Mesita Park, retrace Dallas Street to Lake Murray Boulevard, go south one block and pick up El Paso Street, turning right to take one of the steepest hills on this route. On this hill, near the power conversion station, look for the native black sage just before the intersection of El Paso and Kimberly. As you come over the hill down into the Lake Murray basin, you have views of the undeveloped side of Del Cerro, still covered in native coastal sage scrub and chaparral. After you cross Cowles Mountain Boulevard, you can see the tops of eucalyptus and palms trees just over the rooflines of the houses on the south side. The trees seem low because they are actually in a side canyon of Mission Trails Regional Park.
You will be able to see the canyon itself once you reach Lake Shore/Baltimore Drive. To the west, Lake Murray fills the lowlands ahead. As you turn left and walk down Baltimore, you can look or take a trail down that side which is filled with native plants as well as non-native palms. Sedges and reeds grow in the canyon bottom as runoff creates a wetland in this reach of Lake Murray.
As you continue down Baltimore, take a left at Lake Murray Boulevard. You will want to cross the street at one of the intersections with a traffic light (either Baltimore or Aztec Drive, since there is no protected crosswalk at Marengo Avenue). One of the last canyons you will be able to gaze into is between Aztec and Marengo before you go right down Marengo one block to Laird Street and then follow Laird Street back down to Jackson Park to return to where you started.
If you wish to make this hike shorter, the loop can easily be divided in half as the trail from Jackson Park to either La Mesita or Lake Murray is 2.5 miles.
LA MESA CITY WALKS AND URBAN TRAILS— “The Stride”
Pines, palms and eucalyptus trees frame a route between La Mesita Park and Lake Murray.
Driving directions: From Mission Valley area take I-8 east to Fletcher Parkway in La Mesa. Turn left on Jackson Drive. Jackson Park will be on your left. Hiking length: 5 miles round trip; allow 2.5 hours. Difficulty: Intermediate, one hill, mild inclines, optional stairs, 120 feet elevation gain. Public facilities at Jackson and La Mesita Parks and in private businesses on Lake Murray Boulevard.