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3 North County Hikes to Try This Weekend

Check out these one- to four-mile trails featuring scenic views and cool ocean breezes
Elfin Forest, San Diego
Courtesy of Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Honestly, I sometimes wish I lived in North County, just because of the plethora of trails, running paths and hikes to do there. When I was younger and child-free, sometimes I’d drive up to Solana Beach or Carlsbad simply to run along the ocean, and I would often visit northern hiking trails that required at least a 45-minute drive.

Nowadays, it’s more of a rare treat to get to visit some of my favorite North County spots, but still well worth it. It’s always good to break up your routine and run or hike someplace new, but especially up north where there are beautiful views and cool ocean breezes.

If you’re looking to check out some new trails in San Diego, here are three North County hikes to try:

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve – 2.2 Miles

This reserve is run and maintained by the Olivenhain Municipal Water District and has more than 11 miles for trail running, hiking, and biking. Part of the point of the reserve is to preserve native plant communities including oak riparian, oak woodland, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral. That means there is plenty of beautiful natural plant life to look at as you explore the well maintained trails in this Escondido recreational reserve, many with views overlooking Lake Hodges below. 

You can challenge yourself on a longer and steeper Lake Hodges Overlook Trail, or take it easy and bring the kids along on the shorter Way Up Trail to Harmony Grove Overlook. All of the trails involve some steep climbs, so be prepared.

Directions: Start at the parking lot on Harmony Grove Rd, Escondido, CA 92029

Distance: 2.2 miles for the Way Up Trail to Harmony Grove Overlook

Difficulty: Moderate

Dogs: Allowed

Details: Parking is free

Annie’s Canyon Trail – 1.2 Miles

This Instagram-famous hike through a white slot canyon is really unmatched anywhere in San Diego county. The trail takes you up a sandstone canyon with steep climbs along the way. There are a few places where you actually need to climb a ladder to get to the top. This canyon was reopened several years ago after it was covered with graffiti, but grant funding allowed for a nature conservancy to restore it.

But don’t just do this one short hike and go home. The whole San Elijo Lagoon has beautiful looping trails that stick close to the ocean for cool breezes. One time, as I hiked past the lagoon, I saw fish leaping out of the water over and over again. 

Directions: Don’t follow what Google Maps tells you. Instead, park at 150 Solana Point Cir, Solana Beach, CA 92075 and follow the trail east to get to Annie’s Canyon. You’ll avoid climbing a very steep hill along the highway.

Difficulty: Easy

Dogs: Allowed, but don’t try to bring them up the ladders in the canyon

Details: Parking is free

Double Peaks – 4.25 Miles

This trail in San Marcos will give you more of a workout than the other suggestions I’ve offered. It ends at Double Peak Park, a city park maintained by the city of San Marcos. The small park at the top has beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and a telescope to take them all in.

This trail is one of the more challenging in North County, with a few steep places along the way. If you are heading out in the summer, it’s best to go early in the morning.

Directions: Start at Lakeview Park and follow the trail signs.

Difficulty: Challenging

Dogs: Allowed

Details: Parking is free

By Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser has been writing for San Diego Magazine for 10 years. She also is a reporter at KPBS and writes for The New York Times, National Geographic, Marie Claire, Elle and Runner's World.

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