With COVID-19 ramping up this spring, we followed California’s stay at home orders and didn’t leave our house or neighborhood much at all. However, there were two days where we were all feeling a little too cooped up, so we ventured East into the desert to stretch our legs away from people.
The Domelands Trail is a 7 mile trail in the Coyote Mountain Wilderness. It was a 1.5 hour drive East of San Diego, which was a little longer than we typically go for a hike. The trail is in the desert and can be difficult to find at times, but it offers some amazing landscapes. There are wind caves and slot canyons throughout the area and it is a perfect spot for exploring. Be aware that there is no shade and it can get very hot very quickly. The day we went was in the mid-70s, but the sun made it way too hot for the dog. Without her, we would’ve made the entire loop, but, even with plenty of water, pets can overheat very quickly in the desert. We wandered around for 3.5 miles before calling it a day. This was a very neat hike with very few people (the day we went) but not worth the 3 hours in the car if that’s your only destination.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. We’ve hiked portions of this trail in California, Oregon, and Washington, but this time we started at the southern terminus (well, technically 2 miles from Mexico). The day we went, we didn’t pass a single person on the trail and ended up hiking 7 miles. It was an overcast and cool day, which made it perfectly enjoyable as there is minimal shade. We did an out and back, and would call this section on the moderate end of easy. There was <900 ft. of elevation gain and the trail was very even; it would be a great trail to run. There was one stream crossing along the way and a couple of vantage points looking out over the valley to Mexico. This was a great day hike not too far from the city.
Kitchen Creek Falls is a moderately trafficked, 5 mile out-and-back portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. We continued along the trail for a bit after the falls making our hike an even 6.5 miles. The great thing about the PCT is that you can make your hike as long or short as you like. It is located in the Cuyamaca Mountains about 50 miles east of San Diego. The trail is on the easy side of moderate; the trail climbs 600 ft. very gradually over the course of 2.25 miles. There is a steep portion right as you get to the falls, which is what puts this into the moderate section. We’d recommend some poles as this portion can be a little tricky to maneuver. The turn off to the falls is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled or have a map handy. The falls are a series of small waterfalls along a creek. In the winter, after a rain, there was quite a bit of water flowing, but we’ve heard that it can be pretty dry in the summer.
Paradise Mountain Loop is an 8 mile trail located in Hellhole Canyon near Escondido. Hellhole Canyon is a nature preserve that is only open Friday-Monday and is not open during the month of August due to high heat. Keep that in mind as you plan your visit. In our opinion, the trail is on the hard side of moderate. It climbs 1,900 ft. over the course of 8 miles with all but 300 ft occurring in the first half of the trail. It’s not too steep, but it is rocky and we definitely recommend hiking poles if you have them. On a Sunday in January, the trail was lightly trafficked, though this may change during high tourism seasons. The best part of the trail was how quiet it is. Many of the trails around San Diego are also near large interstates, but Hellhole Canyon is nestled in the mountains away from traffic. There were great vistas along the trail and the top had amazing views across the valley. We did read that in the spring and summer the trail can get quite overgrown, but we had no issue with brush while we were there.
We traded Portland’s gray winter for 6 months in sunny San Diego. We’re nearing the 3 month mark now, and got to spend the first month living in Pacific Beach. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, we had to move before Thanksgiving, but that’s just given us the opportunity to explore another area of the city. Silver lining!
We’ve found that, of all the beaches in San Diego, Pacific Beach is our favorite. In fact, we still venture there at least once a week to hit up a yoga class and let the pup splash in the water. It’s a bit more residential and laid-back, and you have everything you need (grocery store, food, beach) within a 1-1.5 mile radius.It’s much more pedestrian and biker friendly than any other area of the city. There are plenty of bike rental options if you’re visiting, and bike lanes aplenty. There are also walking paths along all of the waterways and you’ll regularly see runners, walkers, roller bladers, and bikers enjoying the sunny weather. On weekends, it’s common to hop into a free beach yoga class.
Snickers loves the water! When she smells the ocean she will march like a lady on a mission until she gets to the sand. It’s been a lot of fun taking her to splash around. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with how dog-friendly San Diego is. There are a few dedicated dog beaches, where dogs are allowed off-leash at all times, but all of the beaches in town allow dogs between 4pm-9am during the winter. We’ve gotten to catch numerous sunsets over the water because of this.
Some of our favorite PB spots so far:
Bird Rock Yoga
Mission Bay bayside walk – unbroken walking/biking/running trail around the bay
Pacific Beach Fish Shop
Dirty Birds – wings and beer after a day at the beach
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters – San Diego isn’t a hot spot for coffee, but these guys do it right!
November and December saw fewer hikes than previous months. Having left the lush Pacific Northwest, we’re a bit less enthused getting out on the trails. San Diego isn’t known for hiking and the trails near the city are lackluster. Suffice to say, it’s been a bit harder finding places to hike. Nonetheless, we’ve found a few places to get our hearts pumping and have staked out a few more routes further into the mountains.
Tecolote Canyon is a nature park near Mission Bay with roughly 7 miles of trails. The trails are fairly rocky and wide but aren’t too difficult. There are a few spots under the power lines that are very steep, but otherwise the trails are relatively flat and easy to walk or run. It’s along a golf course and near a road, so don’t expect to feel like you’re in nature, but for something close to the city it’s a decent spot to walk around.
Balboa Park is another in-city option for getting off road. There are 65 miles of trails – this includes both paved and dirt – throughout the park. We live less than 1 mile from the park so getting on the trails is an easy activity during the week. The trails aren’t very well marked and run along heavily trafficked roads so keep that in mind. On the plus side, they are pretty lightly trafficked so you’ll likely have the trail mostly to yourself.
So far, this has been the best spot for hiking we’ve found in San Diego. It’s a bit of a drive from our apartment, but worth it to get some trail time on the weekend. We’ve actually done three separate hikes here in December alone. There are 60+ miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Our first trip took us from the south entrance to South Fortuna Peak. It was a 5 mile, moderate loop with a mile of glute-burning stairs to the peak. The second two times, I did a 15k and 21k loop that are marked through the park. Both start at the east entrance and go through the Grasslands Loop before climbing to the peaks. The 15k winds through the valley before ascending to South Fortuna Peak with 1,900 ft of ascent, while the 21k begins with North Fortuna Peak before cruising along the park perimeter and joining back with the 15k loop at the South Fortuna ascent for a total of 2,880 ft of ascent. It’s not for the faint of heart, but aside from the two major climbs it’s very doable. The views of San Diego and the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains are spectacular.
In late October we spent two weeks in Yucca Valley, CA. We were able to take advantage of the proximity and visited Joshua Tree National Park on a warm, sunny afternoon.
Joshua Tree is the intersection of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. The park has a vast array of landscape, flora, and fauna with amazing geologic features brought about by strong winds and torrential rain. The Western side of the park – the Mojave Desert – is higher elevation and is home to some spectacular rock features and the famous Joshua Trees. Many of the rock formations are a result of historic weather when the climate was much wetter than it is currently.
We entered the park through the West Entrance and drove the park road to Keys View. National Parks don’t allow dogs on trails, so we were limited in where we could go and do with Snickers. We were able to hop out of the car and walk along some dirt roads, but our visit was mostly limited to what we could see from the car. We also only scratched the surface, mostly limiting our tour to the Western side.
The rock formations through Hidden Valley were amazing. We would’ve loved to hop out and explore. There are some very popular rocks – arch rock, skull rock, heart rock – and we would definitely recommend getting out and exploring if you are able. Surprisingly, we didn’t snag a photo of these, but the photo below is a good representation.
Of course, we have to mention the Joshua Trees. These prehistoric-looking trees are mostly contained to the Mojave Desert, and can be found in California, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. These unique trees often live hundreds of year, with some species living for a thousand.
Keys View is a spectacular vista on the crest of the Little San Bernadino Mountains overlooking Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea. The mountain drops a mile to the valley, and the San Andreas Fault runs right through it. On clear days you can see all the way to Mexico, though the skies were hazy the day we visited.