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10 Scenic Hikes Within an Hour of San Diego

You've mastered all the trails in your area—now plan a Saturday to get outside for a hike and enjoy the views just a bit farther afield

10 Scenic Hikes Within an Hour of San Diego

Difficulty Levels

Easy: Great for beginners who are new to exercising

Moderate: Recreational hikers and runners in decent shape

Hard: Experienced hikers in good physical condition


Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

Where: Start on Awma Road off Alicia Parkway in Aliso Viejo. (Don’t just follow a GPS!) Take the Aliso Creek Trail and then choose from several options, depending on how far you want to go.

What to Instagram: Low, overhanging rocks at the Dripping Cave

Why We Love It: With 4,500 acres and long, winding trails, you can feel small in the vast open space.

Where to Refuel: Try old-fashioned pancakes, French toast, and other breakfast staples at The Original Pancake House (26951 Moulton Parkway, Aliso Viejo).

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 9 miles out and back to the Top of the World lookout point

Mount San Jacinto

Where: Start at the Deer Springs Trailhead on Route 243 in Idyllwild. Follow the trail to the top, and take the loop back down to where you started.

What to Instagram: The clouds when you reach the top—you’ll feel like you’re in them

Why We Love It: This is a challenging hike with unparalleled views. There are also good viewpoints along the way if you don’t want to do the full trip.

Where to Refuel: Breathe the mountain air from the patio at Café Aroma while munching on everything from a breakfast pizza to a salmon BLT (54750 North Circle Drive, Idyllwild).

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 19.5 miles out and back

Cuyamaca Peak

Where: Park at Paso Picacho Campground on Highway 79 and take the fire road up to the summit.

What to Instagram: Views of other mountains sitting below you when you reach the top

Why We Love It: This is the county’s second highest peak, but a much easier hike than the highest, Hot Springs Mountain. On a clear day, you can see all of San Diego’s landmarks.

Where to Refuel: Get everything from steak and eggs to pie at Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant & Store (15027 Highway 79, Julian).

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 5.6 miles out and back

Valido Trail in Laguna Beach

Where: Start on Paseo del Sur near its intersection with West Street in Laguna Beach. Take the trail’s short, steep climb to the peak.

What to Instagram: The ocean view from the top

Why We Love It: This is a short but heart-pounding hike with a huge payoff: stunning views of the ocean and miles of coast.

Where to Refuel: Get frittatas or waffles with ricotta and ginger syrup at Zinc Cafe & Market (350 Ocean Avenue, Laguna Beach).

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 2 miles out and back

10 Scenic Hikes Within an Hour of San Diego

The Slot in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Where: Start in the parking area on Borrego Mountain Wash off Route 78. Take the narrow, steep trail straight ahead.

What to Instagram: The narrow canyon with rocks that look like they’re just about to fall.

Why We Love It: This tight scramble will bring you deep below the surface, with high canyon walls on either side.

Where to Refuel: Stop on your way back for pie, sandwiches, or breakfast at Granny’s Kitchen (1921 Main Street, Julian).

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 2 miles out and back

Big Laguna Trail

Where: Start at the Penny Pines Trailhead on Sunrise Highway near Mount Laguna. Follow the Big Laguna Trail west. It will eventually cross the highway and join the Pacific Crest Trail to take you back to the start.

What to Instagram: Close-ups of wildflowers, which should be in full bloom thanks to this year’s heavy rainfall

Why We Love It: This big loop takes you past panoramic mountain views and gorgeous wildflowers.

Where to Refuel: Try the Belgian waffles or other diner fare at Major’s Diner (28870 Old Highway 80, Pine Valley).

Difficulty Level: Hard

Distance: 10 miles out and back

Pacific Crest Trail

Where: Start at the Penny Pines Trailhead on Sunrise Highway near Mount Laguna. Follow the Pacific Crest Trail north.

What to Instagram: Views of the desert far below

Why We Love It: This is a gorgeous portion of the iconic Pacific Crest Trail that runs through our own backyard.

Where to Refuel: Fill up on burgers and mac ’n’ cheese at Pine House Cafe & Tavern (9849 Sunrise Highway, Mount Laguna).

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 4 miles out and back to Garnet Peak

Rancho San Clemente Trail

Where: Start at the dead end on Calle Cordillera and follow the paved trail past the gate.

What to Instagram: On a clear day, Catalina Island

Why We Love It: This is a mostly flat and paved trail that still has beautiful payoff views of the ocean far below.

Where to Refuel: Get mango and coconut toast or a salmon crepe at La Galette Creperie (612 Avenida Victoria, San Clemente).

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 3.5 miles out and back

Santa Rosa Plateau

Where: Start at the Vernal Pool Trailhead on Vía Volcano Road near Tenaja Road. Take the Vernal Pools Trail to the historic adobes.

What to Instagram: The placid blue pools

Why We Love It: This vast open space has a lot to look at. In addition to the pools filled with shrimp and toads, there are old adobe houses and picturesque views.

Where to Refuel: Fill up on pizzas, salads, and sandwiches (and wine, of course!) at The Goat & Vine (41911 Fifth Street, Temecula).

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 2 miles out and back

Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area

Where: Park on Honey Springs Road at its intersection with Campo Road. Follow the trail from the parking lot.

What to Instagram: Shady oak tree groves

Why We Love It: This path along a creek bed takes you through rolling, grassy hills and along canyon walls.

Where to Refuel: Get chiles rellenos and margaritas at Hacienda Jalisco Bar And Grill (14019 Campo Road, Jamul).

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 4.8 miles out and back 

Bonus: Coast to Crest

If you want a trail that takes you on an epic journey all the way from Julian to the ocean, that could soon be an option. The Coast to Crest Trail starts at Volcan Mountain and winds 70 miles until it reaches Del Mar.

The San Dieguito River Park agency is working on clearing the trail’s gaps so hikers and cyclists never have to leave it until the end. Right now, about 49 miles are complete, including areas such as the 22-mile section running through Santa Fe Valley, Del Dios Gorge, the north shore of Lake Hodges, and the San Pasqual Valley.

Another mostly complete 11-mile stretch runs from Highway 79 to the Volcan Mountain summit, passing through Santa Ysabel East Preserve and Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve.

Originally published January 21, 2022 | Updated December 6, 2022

Contributor

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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