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Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail
Hiking San Diego

Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail Guide

  • 7 miles - Easy Effort
  • 3 Hours (Total)
  • 200 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 250 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

what does this mean?

This mellow hike on the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail takes you to the highlight of the park, a waterfall plunging through volcanic rock. Along the way you'll encounter a forest of giant California live oaks and sycamores, the grave of European royalty, and a year-round stream that many endangered species call home. Nestled in a valley insulated from surrounding development, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is not only one of the most bio-diverse areas in SoCal, but it's also one of the largest urban parks in the USA.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail
  • Parking for the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the Hike

When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

Los Penasquitos means "little cliffs" and is named after the cliffs that flank the park.

Where is Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail?

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve stretches about 5 miles between I-5 and I-15. For this hike, we're going to start at the main entrance on the east side. Use this trailhead address:
Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, 12020 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129

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There's an entry fee for the park, cash only.
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There's a medium-sized parking lot once you enter. The park is popular can fill up, try to come early or on a weekday. The trail starts at the very end of the parking lot.
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The only bathrooms on the hike are here, so take care of any business before you hit the trail.
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Take note of the closing time when you start your hike. If you arrive after closing, your car will get locked in.

Make sure you check the park website before you leave, trails can be flooded or closed based on conditions.

Gear For the Hike

Gear 2022 8

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Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail Maps

There are over 12 miles of trails at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, and this hike guide will take you down the main South Side Trail to the waterfall. A few notes on the trails here:

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Hike Brief

Long Tailed=weael
The Preserve has over 500 plant species, more than 175 types of birds, and dozens of reptiles, amphibians and mammals, including this elusive guy, the Long-Tailed Weasel. Unfortunately, as more people hike here, less animals use it as a refuge. Photo Will Wilson

Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot. Hike through the gate.
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Stay straight on the wide South Side Trail.
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Go straight past the Ranch House Crossing.
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The trails here are well-marked and generally the intersections by crossings have signs. When you come back you can take the North Side trail and cross back over at one of these if you'd like.
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About 0.1 miles past the Ranch House Crossing junction you'll see the sign for Eichar's Grave. Let's pay it a quick visit before continuing up the trail.
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John Eichar, buried here, came here from Pennsylvania to work as the cook at the ranch. He is descended from a Bavarian prince, who fled to the USA in 1750.
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When you rejoin the trail, you'll notice Peñasquitos Creek is visible. We'll be hiking close to it all the way to the waterfall. The creek drains into the ocean right by Torrey Pines, another hike you should try if you haven't already.
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Okay, here's the first of our detours onto the smaller scenic trail. Make the right.
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There's a trail marker to tell you that you're in the right place. Also, no mountain bikes on these small trails, which is nice when you're hiking.
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The trail is narrow and passes under oaks and sycamores.
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Rejoin the main South Side Trail when the small trail ends.
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As you hike along, housing developments up on the cliffs remind you that you're only minutes from suburbia. It feels a million miles away in here.
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And soon after that, look for another right turn onto the smaller trail.
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And again, this trail is peaceful and intimate, yet only a few dozen feet away from the busier South Side Trail.
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You'll see some official and unofficial connector trails to the South Side / Sea to Sea Trail. Stay on this small trail.
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Keep hiking as the trail winds along the creek. There's all kinds of fauna here, including some huge prickly pear cacti.
Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail Stream Crossing
There are some small stream crossings as you hike.
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Keep your eyes open on the left hand side, about 3 feet off the trail, for this marker which delineates the border of San Diego City. Welcome to the city! This park is jointly run by the city and county of San Diego.
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Shortly after that last border marker, the trail dog legs around and it can get confusing. First, avoid the small side trail to the right.
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Then make the hard right on the bigger trail at the junction.
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Right after that make the left at the sign to continue hiking toward the waterfall.

If you want to do a small side trip, go straight at that last junction to visit the Carson's Crossing boardwalk over Peñasquitos Creek.

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Go straight past the Camino Ruiz Trail.
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Rejoin the South Side Trail.
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A sign at that junction lets you know it's not far to the waterfall.
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As you hike down the wide trail, there's one more side trail you can take if you'd like. It's not as pretty as the last ones, so if you just want to get to the falls, you can go straight too. The side trail will rejoin the main trail shortly.
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Avoid any turns and keep heading straight.
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There's a small hill at the 3-mile marker. Only a few more minutes left.
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After that last hill, you'll see a turnoff for the waterfall. Make the right.
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And then past the waterfall sign, bear to the left.
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And after going downhill for a second, you'll see the waterfall. If the water is this high, you probably don't want to cross over, but usually it's lower and you can hop over.
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You can climb around the use trails to get a better view of the waterfall. Be careful as you climb around.

From here just go back the way you came, or take the South Side Trail the whole way, or cross over and take the North Side Trail back.

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).

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