Ten Great Hikes for Winter

This winter, scout out some new trails with help from the Canyoneers, museum-trained naturalists and volunteer trail guides.

With the passing of summer and fall heat, many areas in San Diego County become lovelier and easier to visit. Numerous bird species either winter in our region or pass through, making this season ideal for birding. The desert starts coming alive with the seasonal rains that simultaneously swell our rivers and ponds while prompting early wildflowers to bloom.

Whether hiking in an urban environment, open grasslands, among desert views, or along free-flowing rivers, there is plenty to enjoy on winter trails in San Diego County. Here, our Canyoneers recommend their favorite seasonal hikes where you can stretch your legs, bond with nature, and refresh your senses.

In selecting these hikes, the Canyoneers took into consideration the width of the trails to allow for social distancing. Of course, before heading out, check to see if the trail is open to the public, and be sure you’re prepared. We hope you find a new trail to love, or an old favorite to appreciate once again.

Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve West – San Dieguito River Park
A Canyoneer favorite, the Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve is filled with oak woodlands, riparian, chaparral, and grassland habitats. On this well-marked trail, you’ll see wide grasslands surrounding many oak trees, and plenty of birds that overwinter here. With luck, you might even see mountain bluebirds. There are also expansive views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Learn more.

Santa Margarita River Trail
One of the last free-flowing rivers in San Diego County, this trail follows the kind of peaceful river rarely found in southern California. This crisp out-and-back hike beneath tall trees and between banks is noted for raptors that may be seen perched in trees. You can extend your hike on the 500-Foot Trail to find an open oak forest and relax a while. Learn more.

Pedestrian Bridge Tour (Seven Bridges)
An urban hike perfect for history lovers on a sunny winter day. Popularly known as the 7-Bridges Hike, you’ll want to follow the map to see historic landmarks, murals, and more San Diego history as you cross these seven bridges, built from 1905 onward. Whether over canyons or high above roads, you’ll still have the opportunity to spot urban wildlife. Learn more.

Mission Trails Regional Park – Visitor Center Loop
This is hiking 101 in San Diego: a must-do. And this a great time of year to avoid heat. An introduction to Mission Trails Regional Park, this is an excellent hike for those interested in chaparral or riparian habitat. Centrally located, you’ll find out how quickly you can break away from city noise. Bring your binoculars, because lots of birds overwinter here. Learn more.

Lake Miramar Reservoir
This 4.92-mile paved path around a man-made lake still has plenty of wildlife to be found. Very accessible for bikes and wheelchairs alike, enjoy this wide and winding loop at any pace. Try to identify common and rare chaparral plants and definitely grab your binoculars for plentiful birdwatching. Look for the ruddy duck, most commonly seen from October through April. Learn more.

La Jolla Shores Tide Pools
It’s all about timing. This is the time to avoid summer crowds on these five miles. Go at low tide and see interesting geologic formations and, of course, look for the wealth of sea anemones, small crabs, and fish hanging out in these hiding places. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the antics of shorebirds too, including San Diego County’s most widespread shorebird: the killdeer. Learn more.

Hellhole Canyon Preserve
This place lives up to its name in summer when it’s actually closed due to excessive heat. In winter, however, Hell Creek is a bubbling stream lined with trees. Here you’ll see a history of fire and water, with an old canal built in 1895 that carried water from the San Luis Rey River to Escondido, and new plant life sprouting from the charred remains of past wildfires. Learn more.

Ghost Mountain – Blair Valley
Winter is the perfect time of year for a desert hike. Up this short but rugged hike on Ghost Mountain in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, you’ll see the spot where poet, artist, and author Marshal South and his wife built their house during the 1930s and 40s. This hike is worth the elevation for the absolutely panoramic desert views. Learn more.

Eagle Rock – Pacific Crest Trail
This is a little taste of the Pacific Coast Trail, designated a national Scenic Trail by Congress in 1968. You’ll hike through beautiful oak woodland along a mountain stream, through chaparral, open grassland, and have the opportunity to see what may be San Diego’s oldest and largest sugar bush. Learn more.

Crestridge Ecological Reserve
You could hike over 20 miles here and rarely cross the same route. Crestridge Ecological Reserve is rich with beautiful, endless views from the hilltops and a variety of wildlife, including rare plant species. Whether you hike one mile or 15, definitely bring a camera. Learn more.

Whether you try one or all of these hikes, just enjoy the incredible biodiversity that the county has to offer. If you want to nerd out, take iNaturalist along. This app for your phone allows you to upload your nature finds and contribute to science. For more information on iNaturalist visit our Community Science page.

The Canyoneer program is made possible with support from dedicated volunteers and proud partner Subaru of America.

Posted by Stephania Villar, Digital Communications Manager .

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