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Annies Canyon Trail Guide

Annie’s Canyon Trail Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for Annie’s Canyon Trail
  • Parking for Annie’s Canyon Trail
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance (?)1.8 miles (2.9 km)
Other Options 2.5 With Lagoon Loop
Hike Time1 Hour (Total)
Difficulty (?)Easy
Total Ascent (?)470 feet (143m)
Highest Elevation270 feet (82m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
Park Phone760-634-3026
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Annie’s Canyon Trail is about as unique as they come. On this short hike, you’ll be able to experience a sandstone slot canyon, complete with narrow walls and ladders. And on the way to the canyon, you’ll get beautiful views of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, a critical migrating waterfowl habitat. Another bonus on this hike is that it’s only minutes off of Interstate 5, making it an excellent leg-stretcher hike stop if you’re driving past.

Locals also know Annie’s Canyon Trail as the “ACT” or “mushroom caves.”

Where is Annies Canyon Trail?

There are a half-dozen trailheads and ways to get to Annie’s Canyon Trail; in this guide I’ll show you how to get there from free and abundant street parking, just off of the I-5. Use this trailhead address:
Solana Hills Trailhead, 498-450 Solana Hills Dr, Solana Beach, CA 92075

Annies Canyon Trail Directions 1
When you get to the destination, you’ll see a dead end. The trail starts at the end of the street. Just make a u-turn and…
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 6
Park along the side of the street. It’s mainly open parking, but double check for no-parking areas and driveways.

There are no restrooms at the trailhead or on the hike.

Gear For the Hike

This is a short and easy hike, and you don’t need anything special to do it. Expect to get sandy, and if you have a backpack, it will be hard to get through the slot canyon. If you simply carry a small water bottle and wear casual fitness clothes and sneakers, you’ll be great.

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Astro Headlamp

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It’s your biggest asset if you get lost. If something goes wrong and you get lost, sprain your ankle, or get delayed, you might be caught out after dark. And one of the top items that search and rescue departments recommend you carry is a light. Now smartphones have lights, but they drain the battery quickly. It’s better to invest in an expensive yet high-quality headlamp like the Black Diamond Astro 250. It takes AAA batteries, can last 200 hours, and has an emergency strobe. Carry it with you off the trail to use in emergencies as well.

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Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated November 2021.

My November 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Annies Canyon Trail Maps

The hike from the trailhead through Annies Canyon is 1.8 miles. I’ve added an optional and short loop extension that lets you take in more of the shores of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, which adds another 0.7 miles to the total.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

3D Map

Annies Canyon Trail 3d Map
The hike starts at the parking area next to I-5, then winds into the lagoon before reaching the short Annie’s Canyon loop. The optional blue line is a nice extension around the shores of the lagoon, which rejoins the trail you came in on after 0.7  miles.

Trail Notes

Annies Canyon Trail Directions 4
It’s crucial that you stay on the trail and don’t venture off into sensitive habitats or deadly parts of the slot canyon.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 5
I wish I could say this is common sense, but I need to say it. Don’t scratch or scrawl onto the soft cave walls like these knuckleheads did.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 3
There are green signs located along the trail to point you in the right direction.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 2
There are also a liberal amount of benches located along the trail if you want to take a break and soak up the views.

The Annies Canyon Trail Story

Annies Canyon Graifti
Today Annie’s Canyon Trail is a well-marked, clean and beautiful trail. However, it used by covered in graffiti and a hangout for those looking “to party.” Photo Jerome Lucido

Annie’s Canyon Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

360 Through the Canyon

Turn by Turn Directions

Annies Canyon Trail Directions 7
Go through the gate at the end of the street.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 8
You’ll see some trail signs when you go through, confirming that you are in the right place.
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Follow the wide trail as it climbs.
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At the top of the hill you’ll pass the Canyon Trailhead on the left. Go straight and downihill.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 11
Follow the trail downhill along I-5. Avoid any unofficial side trails and stay on this main, wide trail along the highway.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 12
The trail will come close to the highway. Our turnoff comes shortly, once the trail dips below the level of the highway.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 13
Look for a small side trail on the left, about 0.5 miles into the hike.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 14
Enjoy the shade of the small trail as you hike away from the highway.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 15
You’ll start to get some views of San Elijo Lagoon.

The Spanish expedition that visited the area in 1769 originally named the area San Alejo Lagoon. Over the years, before there was a strong written record, people mistakenly called it San Eligio (the patron saint of goldsmiths). The bastardization of the word continued into its current form, San Elijo, which is not actually a saint.

Annies Canyon Trail Directions 16
Stay straight on the main trail as a side trail joins from the right.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 17
And a second after that, another trail joins from the right. Hike straight.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 18
When you get to the big junction with the trail board, make the hard left to enter Annie’s Canyon.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 19
Go past the big Annie’s Canyon Trail sign.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 20
Make the right at the split to enter the slot canyon.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 21
Here’s the sign at the junction. If you don’t want to do the slot canyon, you can hike up the switchbacks to the left. And remember that if you do the slot canyon, it’s one-way (going up).
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 22
Go straight along the wall on the right.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 24
And then you’re in the beginning of the slot canyon!
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 23
Stay out of the side canyons.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 25
Make the left to enter the narrower part of the canyon.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 26
In the beginning you can walk head-on.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 27
But then it narrows even more; you may have to walk sideways.
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When you get to the split, make the short detour to the grotto of the mushroom cave.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 29
Here’s the mushroom cave. You can still see remnants of the old graffiti on the ceiling.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 30
After the cave, head back to the trail and continue up the ladders.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 31
At the top of the ladders you have a little more canyon left.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 32
And then you arrive at the top and end of the canyon.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 33
Enjoy the nice views to the Pacific Ocean from the bluff, and then head downhill.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 34
The steep trail has some small switchbacks to make the descent (and climb) more manageable.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 35
At the junction at the bottom, make the right to head back to the junction with the big trail board.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 36
If you want to head back to the start, just make the right and retrace your steps. If you want to do the optional 0.7 mile extension around the lagoon loop, make the left.

Lagoon Loop Extension

Annies Canyon Trail Directions 37
Keep straight on the main trail, avoiding any small side trails to the left or right.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 38
Enjoy the nice lagoon views from the higher ground.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 39
When you get to the big junction with the patch of grass in the middle, make the right.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 40
Enjoy the lookout shortly after the turn.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 41
And then continue straight along the side of the lagoon. The tide comes in and out twice a day. When it’s high, look fr marine creatures in the shallows. When it’s out, look for birds searching for food in the mudflats.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 42
The trail turns inland when it approaches the highway. As you gently climb, look up and to the right to see the top of Annie’s Canyon.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 43
Stay on the trail as it widens.
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And soon you’ll be climbing up along the interstate on the trail you came down. Follow it straight along the highway back to the parking area.
Annies Canyon Trail Directions 45
And here you are, back at the Solana Hills Trailhead. That’s the hike!!

This guide last updated on September 12, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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