Guide to San Diego's Best Hiking Trails

Whether you’re interested in more of a scenic walking trail to get that perfect Instagram worthy photo or more of a daring hike through the hills and canyons, San Diego has it all. Here are the top 4 must-do hiking trails in beautiful San Diego, California.

So… throw on your favorite pair of hiking shoes, pack a healthy snack, and maybe a blanket to picnic and relax at the viewpoint... Get out there and EXPLORE!

#1 Torrey Pines State Park

📸: @patrickian4

Location: Torrey Pines Natural State Reserve
Distance: 3 miles
Length: about 2 hours
Difficulty: easy-intermediate
Dog-friendly: No

This hike is the happy medium between a walking trail and adding a little challenge to your hike. This beautiful trail offers ocean views, a dip down into rocky terrain, and a glimpse at the infamous Torrey Pine trees that can only be found there and the channel islands.

 No special attire is necessary for this hike so just throw on your favorite workout set and active shoes and if you are feeling daring, a bathing suit to take a dip into the chilly Pacific Ocean.

#2 Annie's Canyon Trail

📸: @victor_bervian

Location: San Elijo Lagoon
Distance: 1.6 miles
Length: 1 hour
Difficulty: moderate
Dog-friendly: Yes, though not recommended through the canyon

This hike features a unique dip into a sandy canyon near Solana Beach California. This hike will immerse you into the canyon and challenge you with narrow walkways, ladders, and steps in order to work your way through the trail. However, it is one of the more “photo-worthy” trails as the orange like tall canyon around you serves for a sweet photo!

Do not let the canyon portion of this hike scare you away… it will only last about 20 minutes. In addition, you are offered an “easy” or “difficult” route so you can always opt-out of this portion of the trail. This hike features beautiful views of the lagoon as well as nature all around you.

#3 Cedar Creek Falls

📸: @janelleprado

Location: Cleveland National Forest
Distance: 4.6 miles
Length: 3 hours
Difficulty: difficult
Dog-friendly: yes, leashed

This hike is located about 60 miles northeast of San Diego however it offers such amazing views, it is a must-see! For more of you daring hikers looking for a bit of a challenge, this trail is for you. Along the cedar creek trail, you will come upon the unbelievable waterfall which stands around 80ft tall and ends into a swimming hole you can take a dip into if you prefer.

For this hike remember to dress for a more strenuous hike as the length and terrain is more advanced and do not forget lots of water, snacks and of course sunscreen for those hot summer months.

#3 Cowles Mountain

📸: @eretovar

Location: Cleveland National Forest
Distance: Multiple trailheads: Santee (5 miles) and Navajo Rd (3 miles)
Length: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: difficult
Dog-friendly: yes, leashed

This hike has two different trailheads, one beginning in Big Rock Park in Santee (longer route) and the other jumping right into the start of the mountain off Big Rock Road. If you begin at Big Rock Park, the hike is longer and starts out easier before beginning to switchback up the mountainside. Nice views can be seen from many points along the trail, but save those Insta-worthy shots for the top! From the top of Cowles, on a moderate-clear day, you can see the ocean, downtown San Diego, Mexico, and Orange County. There's even a map at the top to show you what you're looking at from each angle! 

We also recommend dressing for a more intense hike. The loose dirt can be hard to keep your footing on, especially coming back down the steepest parts of the mountain. Hiking boots are recommended! Bring lots of water (I prefer snacks, as well) and take caution when bringing along small children and dogs in the heat. 

 

As always, be safe and aware of how weather conditions may change the difficulty of each hike. Always pack plenty of water and take caution in the heat by keeping your eyes open to wildlife such as rattlesnakes. 

 

Interactive Hiking Maps


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