Sunday, February 22, 2015

A bike ride down the Coast to Crest Trail.

I've been a park ranger with the San Dieguito River Park for over 15 years now and I was an avid volunteer mountain bike patroller and trail worker with the park for 5 years before that. I've seen a lot of the changes within the park over those 20 years and I have seen a lot of the parks corridor that stretches over 55 miles from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the ocean in Del Mar but I had never been able to match all the puzzle pieces together until just recently. I had always wanted to feel the full experience of hiking or biking the San Dieguito River Park Coast-to-Crest Trail from the time I first learned of the parks vision of linking open space corridors from the north, south and east together.

My journey on the Coast-to-Crest was not new one, former SDRP director Dick Bobertz, Poway City Council Member Jim Cunningham and Bill Simmons all took on the lengthy task of hiking the trail in a series of 6 days spanning from 2013 to 2014. The San Dieguito watershed that covers 346 square miles also has also been featured in the book Coast to Crest Trail and Beyond- Across San Diego County by car along the San Dieguito River. The last hike down the corridor was done by a group of High-Tech High North County 11th grade students over a 7 day period in the Spring of 2014, that story is featured in the book We Chose Our Own Adventures by Alex Snyder. While I would not be the first one to take on such an adventure I would be the first to link the Coast to Crest Trail by mountain bike.

Monday, February 2nd “Groundhog Day” seemed like a fitting day to make my run at the Coast-to-Crest trail. I started from the Volcan Mountain trail head off of Farmers Rd around 0800 and headed towards the Santa Ysabel Preserve- East trails and jumped on the Kanaka Loop trail that would take me to Hwy79. From these trails you get a good sense of just how big the SDRP corridor is. The views are incredible as you pass through oak woodlands areas and large expanses of grass lands.
Smelling the pines and getting ready to head out.

After existing from the SYP-East trail I had to get on Hwy79 for a few miles and then turn onto Mesa Grande road heading towards Black Canyon Rd. The alignment for the trail through the Santa Ysabel Preserve- West area is still in the planning stage. Whatever it is it will be a great trail. I’ve been able to hike a lot of that area and the canyons in there are great. After a brief diversion around I was back on track and riding on the Upper Santa Ysabel Truck Trail. You know you’re in the canyon lands now. The road and hill sides begin to steepen and the terrain starts getting a lot rockier. From here you can see straight down the corridor to the Hwy78 as it comes up from San Pasqual Valley. Fortunately the rains this year made for some more stunning views. From here you descend into Pamo Valley where I picked up the main road leading to the Lower Santa Ysabel Truck Trail and eventually out onto Hwy78 and into San Pasqual Valley. The big picture was finally starting to take shape.
Looking down into Pamo Valley from Upper Santa Ysabel truck trail.
Even though I had been pretty much in the park the whole way I felt a little more at home once I got onto the San Pasqual Valley trail. The bulk of the parks operations are focused within this area so it is very familiar and as soon as I entered the orange groove and smelled the blossoms at the beginning of the valley I was at ease and enjoyed a nice ride through the grasslands area and up over Raptor Ridge again giving me another great view down the park corridor towards the ocean. I was getting closer but still had miles left. The ride down Raptor is twice as nice as going up. I was then out across the flood plain and into the Lake Hodges area. There’s been a lot of work around the lake shores lately with the removal of many invasive eucalyptus trees and it is already starting to make a difference. The native plants are gaining a better foothold and thriving. Oh yeah the rain helped as well. I continued down onto the Del Dios Gorge trail after the Lake Hodges Dam paralleling Del Dios Highway and then onto the Santa Fe Valley trail.

Raptor Ridge and Lake Hodges Dam.

Heading into Del Dios Gorge and Santa Fe Valley trails.

After crossing into the Lusardi Open Space Preserve you can pick up a connector to San Dieguito road. From this point I followed the San Dieguito road down towards El Camino Real. Again the connector for this area is still in the works but could follow much of the same route. I followed El Camino briefly until I regained the Coast-to-Crest trail again at the Del Mar Horse Park.
The trails in the Coastal area of the SDRP are the youngest we have. Most of what is down there was built within the last 4 to 5 years and it’s coming along very nicely. This is the point where the San Dieguito River joins with the ocean and the lagoons. All the lagoons you see were created as part of a large wetlands restoration project headed up in great part by Southern California Edison. Continuing on I could smell the ocean breezes and I knew I was within miles of the beach. Now following the river to the ocean I crossed the Lagoon Boardwalk (currently in danger of being removed) and passed by the Del Mar Fairgrounds and eventually on to the river’s mouth “Dog Beach” and the end of my journey. All told it took me about 6hrs to complete the 72mi route down the San Dieguito River Park Watershed.
Birdwing Open-Air Classroom
Lagoon Boardwalk
Looking back east.
This trip through the park was an absolute eye-opener for me. It was not until my journey was complete that I really understood what it meant to have a plan like this in place. The benefits of having a dedicated wildlife corridor not only helps now but ensures that it stays that way for generations to come. The obstacles ahead of the San Dieguito River Park are still numerous and great and in most situations it’s going to take some real cooperation and sacrifice on behalf of all the entities that make up the park. After 20 years of working for and with the park I am proud of what we have accomplished so far. It is my sincere hope that I get to one day see this project to fruition. 

Reaching the beach!


  1. Thank you for sharing. Any GPS data to share for future trail users to stay on path?

  2. Exactly. From the Mesa Grande detour, sounds like that might be open access.

    Search for "Black Canyon to Pamo Valley" and SanDiegoReader should pop up for
    a description of 12S07 (USYR) I believe.

    Would like to know your routing for Pamo to lower 78.
    Orosco -> Drasco -> Guegito ?
    Or does Rte 12504 not dead-end (as shown on Gmaps)

    From there San Pasqual it's pretty clear.

  3. How can we get permission to ride the full length of the trail?

  4. There will be a connector on the Lower Santa Ysabel truck trail coming from Pamo but for now the only way around is to jump on the 78 and ride it down to San Pasqual.

    Any part of the trail thats open to the public is available to ride. Thing is not all the trails connect right now. You'll have to due some route planning and use surface roads as connectors between trails. I did it so its doable.

  5. Thank you David, much appreciated.

  6. Also thanks for the route description and excellent photos!