Hiking San Diego
|In This Guide|
In addition to ample sunshine, hiking San Diego offers hikes for everyone. From coastal hikes, to moonscape deserts, to big mountains, there’s tremendous variety. San Diego County’s 4,261 square miles are the most biologically diverse in California, with over 2,000 plant species, over 500 species of birds, and hundreds of species of reptiles and mammals.
San Diego is also close to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is incredible. It’s is the largest state park in California and, after New York’s Adirondack Park, the second largest in the contiguous United States. There’s a wide range of hikes and not so many crowds. Modern Hiker has some great Anza-Borrego hikes on his site.
Many of the hikes in San Diego are best done early or late, conditions can be harsh in the Southern California sun. Once you move away from the coast, the heat can be extreme. Again, leave early, bring way more water than you need, and wear a hat and light long sleeves. If you start to get a headache, nausea, cramps, and/or dizziness, these are the signs of heat stroke and you need to stop immediately.
Best San Diego Coast Hike
No surprise here – Torrey Pines is the must-do San Diego hike. The hike takes you along the sandstone cliffs on the ocean, with a trip down to the beach. Come early to beat the crowds.
Torrey Pines Hike Directions
Hike With Best San Diego Views
Hike to the highest point in the city of San Diego, Cowles Mountain. The hike is steep but doable for beginners, and you get great 360 views from Mexico to Orange County.
Cowles Mountain Hike Directions
Best San Diego Summit
It’s not the toughest hike to a summit, but it might be the funnest one. Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca State Park is doable for beginners and offers a stone perch on the summit, with 360 degree views.
Stonewall Peak Hike Directions
More San Diego Hikes
- Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is a mellow, easy hike along a stream with waterfalls.
- Iron Mountain Trail is really popular because of the views. If you want to avoid the crowds and heat, do it right at sunrise.
- Potato Chip Rock might be the most popular (and crowded) hike. Again, go early to avoid the crowds.
- Mission Trails Regional Park is over 7000 acres and offers 5 peaks to hike.
List of Hiking San Diego
|Torrey Pines Hike||3.3||540||Easy||No|
|Cowles Mountain Hike||4.3||1189||Moderate||Leashed|
|Hiking Stonewall Peak Trail||5.4||1050||Easy||No|
|Hike Cuyamaca Peak||6||1670||Moderate||Leashed|
|Potato Chip Rock Hike (San Diego)||7.5||2354||Hard||Leashed|
All Hiking San Diego
I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the Potato Chip Rock hike even if you’re not familiar with it. Potato Chip Rock is the iconic rock formation in San Diego County where everyone grabs a photo of themselves perched out on the rock, over the oblivion. The hike to the rock and summit of Mt Woodson is a fun one, with a few options to get to the top. It’s a hard hike because of the uphill, but otherwise well-marked and easy to do. It gets crowded so plan your trip accordingly (keep reading!).
The Cowles Mountain hike brings you to the highest point in San Diego at 1,593ft, with views from Mexico to Orange County. Cowles Mountain is also one of the most popular hikes in San Diego, so I’ve routed this hike up the less trafficked and more scenic “back way” up the mountain. It’s a fun, safe beginners hike, and a must-do if you’re in San Diego.
The Stonewall Peak Trail hike is the most popular hike in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park for good reason. It’s not too tough, offers great 360 views from Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and has a unique bald rock face summit. Give the hike a try, you won’t be disappointed. Stonewall Peak, at 5730ft high, is also right next to the 2nd highest peak in San Diego County, Cuyamaca Peak, and both can be hiked in a day. Break your hikes up with a picnic in Paso Picacho Campground.
The hike to Cuyamaca Peak brings you to San Diego County’s second highest point at 6,512 feet. It’s only 20 feet lower than the highest peak, but much easier to hike. On a clear day, you can see for 100 miles from the summit, including the Coronado Islands and Table Top Mountain in Mexico. Even though the hike goes to a high point, it’s not a tough backcountry expedition, but rather a a great hike for a beginner – no tricky twists and turns.
This Torrey Pines hike takes you to the best of the park – you experience get great ocean views, hike through unique geological formations, get a glimpse of the world-famous golf course, hike on an antique version of the Pacific Coast Highway, and of course, get see the Torrey Pine. The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine tree in the United States and is an endangered species. You can only see them here and on the Channel Islands. As you’re hiking Torrey Pines, remember that the environment is fragile, so please stay on the trail. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of those once in a lifetime destinations, I highly recommend this hike!