Elfin Forest Hike in North County, San Diego

Olivenhain Reservoir as viewed from the Elfin Forest Preserve Lookout

Olivenhain Reservoir as viewed from the Elfin Forest Preserve Lookout

Think of being outdoors in San Diego. You’re thinking of the beach, aren’t you? It is true, San Diego will never escape it’s pop culture image of miles of sun-drenched coastline. This is a bit of a shame actually, because San Diego offers another geographical future unique among big cities – huge amounts of pristine, undeveloped open space. San Diego is comprised of bustling urban sprawl on mesa tops, with surprisingly undeveloped canyons cutting through it all. What this means is that San Diego is home to over 24,000 acres of protected open space in the city limits alone. The area is inundated with more places to hike than you could shake a stick at. Kendall and I have hiked many of these trails, and we decided to add the Way Up trail at Elfin Forest Preserve to the list last weekend.

The Elfin Forest preserve is slightly north of San Diego proper, about 20 minutes east of the beach town Encinitas. It’s a nice drive on a twisty road through some of North County’s remaining farming communities to the trail head, but once you arrive, prepare to return to feeling like a cow in a cattle car like you did on the 5 driving here. We battled significant crowds on a dreary Saturday in February. If you’re planning on making a loop out of the Way Up and Botanical trails as most do, you’ll be hiking a little over 3 miles, and it’ll likely be in a crowd. You can add more peaceful miles to your hike when you arrive at the top of Way Up using the 10+ miles of additional trails in the reserve.

The hike begins with a shaded creek crossing and immediately begins a moderately steep and unrelenting climb that endures for a little over a mile. The trail is well maintained but somewhat rocky and uneven, and therefore not the best choice if you’re looking for a stroll in the park. There isn’t all that much to see during this segment, save the valley you are leaving behind. As you get further along, you’ll have nice views of the Escondido Valley to the west, and perhaps the Pacific to the west if you choose a clearer day than we did.

The creek crossing, adjacent to the staging area

Kendall at the creek crossing, adjacent to the staging area

When you reach the viewpoint, you’ll have an expansive view of the Olivenhain Reservoir basin. If you hike a little to the east on a double-track trail, you will see the majority of the eastern half of San Diego county on a clear day. Palomar Mountain, Mt. Woodson, Iron Mountain and Cuyamaca Peak are all visible. Stay tuned to see if we can spot the Elfin Forest lookout from these peaks!

One comment to Elfin Forest Hike in North County, San Diego

  1. […] As we’ve discussed before, one of the best parts of San Diego is that the urban sprawl has left many canyons and peaks free for us to enjoy between patches of development. This applies to North County even more, where most of the newly minted communities have been constructed to include open space from the beginning. Such is the case for the Double Peak trail in San Marcos. Lucky residents of the Twin Oaks Valley neighborhood, where the hike starts, have wide paved paths that are far more substantial than the sidewalks in most communities, and these paths were in wide use when we came along. You start out walking by Discovery Lake, a small fishing pond surrounded by oak trees, walking trails and benches. Climbing uphill towards the Double Peak summit, you pass nicer and nicer houses through the neighborhood trail system, until you leave the development behind, thankfully exchanging the paved trail for dirt. […]

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