Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Torrey Pines State Reserve is one of the most beautiful – and popular – spots in San Diego County. The hike as I did it starts at the main parking lot and winds up the fairly steep asphalt road until it reaches another parking lot at the visitor center. Hikers can also park here, dropping the route’s difficulty to easy due to less distance and incline.
This is where the fun begins as the Beach Trail meanders through occasional pine trees (the reserve’s namesake Pinus torreyana, which only grows in a couple other spots in the world) and eventually slopes down through cliffs until reaching the beach. Hikers can walk north on the beach back to the parking lot (if tides allow) or hike back up the Beach Trail for more exercise or to explore the other trails that spur off this one.
Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Location: West of Golden
Trail Length: About 3.7 miles, in and out trail
Elevation Gain: About 900 feet
Notable Features: A moderate trail that doesn’t seem as challenging as the numbers make it sound. It’s a pleasant and relaxing walk through forest and meadows with views of nearby Tremont Mountain.
Wildflowers on the trail to Amboy Crater.
Amboy Crater National Landmark is a great example of a dormant volcanic cone. North of the crater, off Route 66, there is a short path dotted with black volcanic rocks that in the summer is often covered with yellow wildflowers that leads to the western slope of the crater. The path then leads up the slope and into the crater, where hikers can walk around the perimeter and look out at the vast expanse of desert (and the tiny outpost of Amboy to the northeast) for miles. It’s about 4 miles from the parking lot to the crater and back.
Make sure to visit the town after your hike… The little general store has frozen candy bars and milkshakes, and the abandoned resort is worth a look.
Stone house on the Mission Creek Trail.
Mission Creek Trail is an often-overlooked gem on the way to the Joshua Tree area from Palm Springs. The area is owned by the Wildlands Conservancy, which also owns other hiking areas around San Gorgonio, including Whitewater Preserve, Oak Glen Preserve and Pioneertown Mountains Preserve.
The Mission Creek Trail is an easy stroll of just under 3.5 miles round-trip to a stone house (with picnic tables and flush restrooms) with the namesake Mission Creek flowing alongside most of this path. Wildflowers bloom during the spring, and there is a large patch of grapevines at one point. For a strange diversion, veer to the left when you see the sign for the stone house to discover an old water-monitoring station on the creek against a cliff.
The trail continues past the stone house and eventually links with the Pacific Crest Trail, which will lead you to another of the conservancy’s preserves – Whitewater. The between the two preserves is 8 miles and can be done as a thru-hike if you have a car waiting for you at the Whitewater terminus.