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|
|Weather & Forecast||Latest Conditions|
|Stay Safe||Copy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.|
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.
Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI
Altra Lone Peak 6
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 Terraventure 3 or 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. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated June 2022.
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?
Here’s what I use. 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 7 or Epix. 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.
- 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.