here is something for every nature lover and even those who only want to get a bit of exercise at Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary. It is also a great place to learn about birds at the Sanctuary’s Observation Area and Nature Center, which is to be expected since the sanctuary is owned and operated by the San Diego Audubon Society.
From the parking area, start hiking southeast on the Harry Woodward Trail. This is an easy self-guided trip through chaparral with many shrubs identified with signs. Turn right at the Chaparral Trail to continue the self-guided tour where more chaparral shrubs are identified with signs. Up ahead, across a bridge over an intermittent creek, is the bird observation area, a place to get acquainted with some of the more than 100 species of birds that visit or live in the sanctuary. After exploring the bird observation area, return to the Chaparral Trail and continue east to the Spring Trail. Go right on the trail and you'll soon cross an open grassy area and continue on beyond the cienaga (a marsh).
There you'll intersect with the Circuit Trail where a left continues up to the backbone of the ridge and crosses the “Big Rock Slab,” a large granite outcropping nearly devoid of plants, except for mosses and lichens. The Circuit Trail loops around the sanctuary, eventually returning to the entrance. If time permits, it intersects with six other trails you can take. Outstanding views can be found on the Howie Wier-Rady’s View Trail up to the sanctuary’s high point at 2,100 feet. There is also a self-guiding Geology Trail that is compelling and informative.
We’ve rated the difficulty for this hike easy, with elevation gain/loss of up to 1,000 feet. Please note that pre-registration is always required. Dogs are not allowed. Before you go, check to ensure the trail is open and make a reservation. More detailed information about the area can be found at San Diego Audubon Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary.
With a network of nearly 5 miles of trails, there are both easy walking paths through shady oak woodlands and more extensive paths through the chaparral where there are many wildflowers that bloom here in late winter and spring. Hiking up to the ridgeline provides outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and out to the ocean.
You’ll see a lot of chaparral whitethorn (Ceanothus leucodermis), a tall ceanothus or “lilac” that forms dense, almost impenetrable thickets after a fire, a reminder that Silverwood was completely destroyed in the 2003 Cedar Fire. This species has an extensive root system that helps stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. The roots usually develop nodules containing the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Frankia (Frankia sp.), which adds this essential plant nutrient to the soil. It also produces a prodigious number of seeds whose germinations are stimulated by fire. This partially explains how habitat here and in other burned areas can make a rapid recovery after a fire.
In a normal rainfall year, this will be a marsh, or cienaga. At the marsh, listen for sounds of grasshoppers (family Acrididae) and other insects. Grasshoppers are able to make their characteristic sound by rubbing their hind leg against their forewing. They also produce sound by snapping their wings as they fly. A common species seen in the county is the very large gray bird grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens). They provide music for the area, and snacks for some of the birds here.
Plan ahead! Reservations are required for a visit. From CA-67 in Lakeside go east on Willow Road for 0.9 mile. Turn left on Wildcat Canyon Road. Go 3.8 miles. Turn right on Cienga Trail and Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary. Parking lot is on the left. Trailhead GPS: N32.91936, W116.88130
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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