Development of the 3058-acre Daley Ranch in northeast Escondido was halted when the City of Escondido voted to acquire the property in 1996 to preserve it as a natural habitat and a place for outdoor recreation. As a result, it remains a treasure for anyone who likes to hike, run trails, mountain bike, ride horses, or just experience nature. The hills are clothed with coastal sage scrub and chaparral while in the valleys you will find ponds, oak woodlands, and grassy meadows. The trees include the increasingly rare Engelmann’s oaks as well as the more common coast live oak.
An intricate network of over 20 miles of trails winds through Daley Ranch making many hikes possible and hundreds of ways to plan a day’s adventure. A few of the trails are single track but most are actually dirt roads maintained by a bulldozer for passage of emergency vehicles. However, other than bicycles, hikers won’t encounter vehicles on any of these roads, barring an emergency. The one exception is the Ranch House Road, but here vehicle traffic is confined to a shuttle bus that travels from the parking lot to the Ranch House and only operates on Sundays. Be alert for mountain bikers and horses on the trail.
Before you go, check to ensure the trail is open. Visit the City of Escondido website to learn more.
One of the non-venomous reptiles that might be encountered is the gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer). It is one of the most commonly seen snakes in California. It is diurnal or active during the day. Its coloration and pattern can resemble that of a rattlesnake (Crotalus spp.), and sometimes this beneficial snake is killed inadvertently when it is seen around residences. Gophersnakes help control rodents. They do not have the triangular shaped head of the rattlesnake and are much more slender, although they can reach a length of well over four feet. The head is small and almost indistinguishable from the neck. When threatened, it will rear up, puff up its body, flatten its head, and hiss, resembling a pit viper. It may also shake its tail to confuse potential predators. The tail does not have rattles and tapers to a point. The eyes have round, pupils while those of the rattlesnake have vertical, cat-like pupils. Gophersnakes are constrictors that hunt mainly for small mammals but will also eat birds and eggs.
Boulder Loop is one of the many routes on the Daley Ranch. The best time to visit is November through July when wildflowers are out. Starting from the dirt parking lot off La Honda Drive, hike through the Daley Ranch gate and up the road toward the recently restored Ranch House, a structure built in 1928. Follow the Ranch House Road up over a small hill and down through an oak grove with views of some of the ponds that were once used for livestock grazing. The southern end of the Boulder Loop Trail is on the left about 0.7 mile from the parking lot. Proceed up the steep, eroded Boulder Loop Trail to the top of the ridge. Pause to catch your breath and enjoy the vistas: south to Dixon Lake and beyond to Escondido; east to the Daley Ranch ponds with Stanley Peak rising above them; and west and southwest to suburbia sprawling over the neighboring valleys and crawling up the hills.
Look for Pacific treefrogs (Pseudacris regilla) that have been encountered near the start of the Boulder Loop Trail. You can hear them in spring, especially after a rain. These small amphibians are only 1-2 inches long and come in many colors ranging from gray, brown, red, cream, and green. They can change from dark to light, but their color hue stays the same. They are found in a variety of moist habitats and require standing water to reproduce. The skin is smooth and the legs are proportionally longer than the body. Males have a dark patch at their throat that will stretch when they vocalize. They hide in aquatic vegetation, cattails, under rotten logs, leaf litter, rocks, or on leaves. Males lure females to water with their call where they will mate and the female will lay eggs in the water. Tadpoles eat algae, diatoms, and even pollen that is floating on the water. During metamorphosis from a tadpole to a frog, their digestive systems transform them from herbivorous to carnivorous animals. Adults eat insects and their larva.
The first mile is up a sometimes steep grade, but eventually you reach a grassy, boulder-strewn ridge with easy hiking as you proceed over a series of low rolling hills. Two other trails branch off Boulder Loop. The first one is the single track Rock Ridge Trail that veers to the right, and the other is the Cougar Ridge Trail, branching off to the left. These are well marked. Stay on the Boulder Loop Trail as it goes back down to the Ranch House Road, rejoining it 3.2 miles from the trailhead. At this point there are two options. Going left up the Ranch House Road leads to the historic Ranch House in less than half a mile, which is well worth a visit. Alternatively, turning right takes you back to your vehicle in 0.8 mile via the same Ranch House Road you came in on.
From I-15 go east on El Norte Parkway for 3.1 miles. Turn left on La Honda Drive. Go 1.3 miles. Parking lot on the left. Trailhead GPS: N33.16683, W117.05195
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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