Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail Guide
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||7 miles (11.3 km)|
|Hike Time||3 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||200 feet (61m)|
|Highest Elevation||250 feet (76m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Los Penasquitos Canyon County Preserve|
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.
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
Make sure you check the park website before you leave, trails can be flooded or closed based on conditions.
Gear For the Hike
- This is a straightforward hike that most folks do in fitness or casual clothes.
- Bring at least 1L of water.
- If it’s been raining, there can be some big puddles and small stream crossings. I use trail runners and they work great.
- There can be ticks and bugs in the lush growth around the creek. I use insect repellant here.
Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.
Latest Price on Women’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. 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.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2021.
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.
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:
- Overall the trail is flat with a few small bumps.
- If the falls are too far, you can cut it short by taking on of the crossings before that and hiking back on the other side.
- Here’s an official trail map for the park.
- We are going to take small parallel side trails between Peñasquitos Creek and the larger South Side Trail. These trails are small, generally shaded, and less busy than the bigger South Side Trail, which is a dirt road.
- If there’s been a lot of rain, the small side trail can be flooded. If this is the case, just head over to the South Side Trail and continue there.
- This is an out-and-back hike. When you get to the waterfall, just turn around and come back the way you came. If you just want to return quickly, you can take the main dirt South Side Trail back. You can also cross over and take the North Side Trail, crossing back to the south side of the creek wherever you’d like.
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.
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.
- For about 6,000 years native peoples have inhabited this area, taking advantage of the abundance of life, shade, and freshwater.
- Los Penasquitos was the site first Mexican land grant in California, which happened in 1815. The Mexican government gave out land parcels like this to retired soldiers.
- The area was used f0r cattle grazing until residential development started in the 1960s, when the county and city purchased the land using a federal HUD grant to protect it. Eventually it became the park you see today.
Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
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.
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.
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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