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3 South County Hikes to Try

Check out these four- to 10-mile treks in Jamul, Chula Vista & the Tijuana Estuary
Hollenbeck Canyon Trail
Photo Courtesy of AllTrails

If you have lived and hiked in San Diego long enough, eventually you’ll find yourself in a hiking rut. Heading to the same places, doing the same trails, instead of branching out and trying something new. 

That’s happened to me plenty of times. And while there is something beautiful about hiking the same routes over and over—noticing things you haven’t seen before, or seeing if you can reach a summit in a record time—it’s also important to explore. That’s the whole point of hiking, right?

A great way to explore new trails is to head to a part of the region where you don’t usually go. There are lots of trails in South County that you may not have set foot on before, and many are worth checking out.

So, here are three South County hikes to try.

Hollenbeck Canyon

This 4.7-mile, out-and-back hike takes you through a scenic canyon in Jamul with sweeping green hills on either side. Go in the spring and you’ll have beautiful views of wildflowers, and possibly a few small streams you’ll need to cross (pack a small towel and go barefoot across if you don’t want wet shoes and socks). There are a few steep places along the way, but the trail is well maintained and mostly not too challenging.

Directions: Start at the trailhead on Honey Springs Road off Campo Road.

Distance: 4.7 miles, out-and-back

Difficulty: Moderate

Dogs: Allowed

Details: Buy a California Department of Fish & Wildlife day pass for $5.66 online before you go.

Mother Miguel Mountain

This steep but relatively short climb near Chula Vista is a bit challenging, but the views from the top are totally worth it. On a clear day, you can see mountains to the east, Sweetwater Reservoir, and Chula Vista, plus the ocean and bay along with Mexico, Coronado, and downtown San Diego. The hike is best done before summer months because there’s no shade along the way, and there are steep switchbacks for part of the trail.

Directions: Start at Mount San Miguel Park on Paseo Veracruz.

Distance: 4.4 miles, out-and-back

Difficulty: Challenging

Dogs: Allowed

Details: Parking is free.

Tijuana Estuary

Forget Torrey Pines (OK, don’t forget it, because it’s also beautiful), this wide park along the ocean is way less crowded and still has beautiful views. You can hike along the US-Mexico border, winding your way around as many trails in the Tijuana River Valley as you’d like. Still perfectly pleasant as the weather gets warmer, this estuary is a great spot for bird watching and easy hiking with its flat trails. 

Directions: Start on Imperial Beach Boulevard to follow the North McCoy trail or the full route.

Distance: For the longest hike, follow the 9.2-mile Valley Scenic Route, or do the shorter North and South McCoy trails.

Difficulty: Easy

Dogs: Allowed

Details: Parking is free. A trail map can be found here.

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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