The Dos Picos Regional Park is a bit of a hidden treasure tucked in the heart of Ramona. The 78-acre park, named for two prominent mountains nearby, features a large, well-maintained picnic area, a campground with good facilities nestled within shady oak woodlands and boulders, and a stream-fed pond. The nature trail is a special treat with beautiful views of the park and surrounding hills and an abundance of unusually large and healthy native plant species.
There are two ways to enter the Ernie Pantoja Memorial Trail, named for an employee of the California Conservation Corps who lived in Ramona. The official trailhead is located between camping site Nos. 48 and 49 and is marked with a sign, a memorial plaque, and a low brick wall backed by large, dramatic boulders. However, the other end of the trail is easier to access from the picnic area parking lot.
Starting from the map kiosk in the parking lot, walk to your left until you see a wooden bridge leading you into a shady area with oak trees and rocks. The bridge spans an intermittent stream that is usually dry part of the year. This leads past many picnic tables and a pond with ducks, grackles, great blue herons, great egrets, and other birds. Walk to your right, almost to the southeast corner of the pond, and you will reach the back of the Ernie Pantoja Memorial Trail. This part of the path leads up the hill and is less shady, but the path is wide, terraced, and very well maintained, so it is not a difficult climb.
This path packs a large number of native plants into a short 1-mile trail. There are both coast live oak and Engelmann’s oak, with coast live oak predominant. There is a good view of Mount Woodson about halfway through the trail, and the intermittent shade makes the hike suitable for any time of year. If you are interested in camping or in reserving portions of the large picnic areas, contact the park directly for reservations and fee information.
We’ve rated the difficulty for this hike easy, with approximately 300 ft of elevation gain. Before you go, check to ensure the trail is open. More detailed information about the area can be found at Dos Picos County Park. Note there is a $3 parking fee.
Animals seen here include the northern raccoon, Virginia opossum, gray fox, and striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). The striped skunk is an omnivore whose main natural predators are birds of prey, especially the great horned owl. It has two scent glands on each side of its anus that contain about a half-ounce each of an oily sulfur-alcohol compound that it can spray up to several feet if threatened. Skunks are polygamous. A male may have several females in a harem during the mating season.
Usually, one finds a few scattered small plants of bush monkey flower or penstemon on hikes in the East County. Here, however, large stands of these plants make a surprising and beautiful display in the late spring. Many plants found along this trail show unusually large leaves and tall growth, suggesting a good amount of precipitation. The Ramona-lilac (Ceanothus tomentosus) in particular may be hard to recognize in an almost tree-like form. Look at the alternating oval, dark green leaves that are hairy on top and wooly underneath. The species name is related to the adjective tomentous that means covered with short matted, wooly hair. This is the reason for this plant also being called woollyleaf ceanothus. Look at the leaf margins and see the glandular structures found there that are characteristic of this species. Young stems are reddish and the inflorescence cluster can be white to deep blue. When in full bloom, the plant is stunning.
Look for the large ceanothus silk moth (Hyalophora euryalus) with an impressive 3- to 5-inch wingspan. The moth larvae, or caterpillars, can be found feeding on the Ramona-lilac; you might find moth cocoons hanging like teardrops from the leaves. The ceanothus silk moth has brown to reddish-brown wings with characteristic crescent-shaped slashes on its wings and an eye-spot on the corner of its upper wings. Members of the silk moth family Saturniidae are among the largest and most spectacular moths in the world and the ceanothus silk moth is the largest on the Pacific coast.
Beware of western poison-oak found here. It grows vigorously and can be beautiful when the leaves are mixed red and green. Other native plants to look for include blue elderberry, yellow-flowered chamise, and mountain-mahogany with its feathery seeds. If you are lucky enough to see the holly-leaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia) in fruit, the bright, translucent, edible berries seem to glow in the sunlight. Look at the serrated, holly-like, thick oval leaves that curve under in concave fashion. A surprising find is the mission manzanita (Xylococcus bicolor). It has a limited range and is usually found closer to the coast where it is a common component of coastal sage scrub habitat.
From CA-67 in Ramona go south on Mussey Grade Road for 1.1 miles. Turn right on Dos Picos Park Road. Go 0.6 mile. Parking lot is on the left. Trailhead GPS: N32.99914, W116.93927
Looking for more great hikes? Check out our Canyoneers page or purchase the book,
Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.
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