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The Best Hiking Trails in San Diego

By March 28, 2018January 16th, 2020San Diego
Best Hiking in San Diego

San Diego is home for a lot of things; the Padres, Chargers, zoos, some of the oldest California missions, a host of great breweries (Stone, Ballast Point, Pizza Port, etc.), and much more! Did you know you can find some amazing hiking trails in San Diego too? We cover what we think are some of the best hiking trails San Diego has to offer.

Bayside Trail at Cabrillo National Monument

We’ll start off with a good, year round hike that all can enjoy. This is an easy trek that is approximately 2.8 miles at the southernmost tip of Point Loma. Historically, this spot is one of San Diego’s most significant and it features such landmarks like the Cabrillo National Monument (named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, discoverer of California) and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Visitors can access the lighthouse which was established in 1855 and climb up it partially. This hiking spot is also a popular spot for whale watchers as well. In addition, there are amazing views of downtown San Diego and Coronado Island.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

This trail is located in beautiful La Jolla and despite it’s picturesque setting, it is definitely not for the the novice or beginner hiker. Ho Chi Minh trail is definitely meant for more adventurous, thrill-seeking hikers. The trail is slippery as you’re mainly on sandstone which should clue you in to NOT hike this trail under wet conditions as sandstone can break apart from under you very easily. Plan to wear shoes with good traction that you won’t mind getting a little dirty; the trail can definitely leave you muddy and a bit scuffed up. You can find unique rock formations and canyons throughout and may even have to contort yourself through a couple of tight corners and down steep hills. The trail got its name from SD surfers in the 1960’s, naming it after the treacherous Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam.

Mount Woodson Trail – Potato Chip Rock

If you’re a Southern California native, we’re willing to bet some creative pictures of Potato Chip Rock have shown up in your Facebook or Instagram feed at some point. If you haven’t seen them yet, a simple search of #potatochiprock on Instagram will get you caught up in a hurry. However, don’t let this widely popular trail fool you, it isn’t as much of a cake walk as it is made out to be. Temperatures can climb in this region, particularly in the summer so it’s best to do in the fall, spring, or winter time. There are also parts which can get very steep, particularly along the summit trail. Regardless, Mount Woodson Trail is a great area to visit; you can take in the majestic granite boulders found throughout the trail and later walk along Lake Poway to cool off. There are also tons of sprawling views perfect for panoramic pictures.

Sunset Cliffs Park Trails

Sunset Cliffs is located nearby Ocean Beach and there’s obviously no secret about where the name came from. This is a haven for individuals looking to take in a picture-perfect sunset (or sunrise). As far as the trails go, this one is low on difficulty and high on beautiful scenery. You can make it as mellow as you want by simply walking along the cliffs. If you want to explore a little bit more or lengthen the amount of time you’re walking, there are opportunities to trek down to the beach or climb through wedges between cliffs. If we’re being honest, it’s more of a walk than a hike but it’s definitely still worth the experience especially with a signficant other or on a first date!

Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain is in the same ballpark as the aforementioned Mount Woodson Trail and the two are even nearby in proximity. If you like the area or the difficulty of a Mt. Woodson type of trail, you’ll also enjoy Iron Mountain as well. This can be a rough trail too and is one to avoid if it is too hot outside. However, if you’re a fan of hiking trails in 90+ degree weather, just make sure you’re bringing ample amounts of water to stay fresh. There are many rocks and boulders scattered throughout that you can climb on as well. This is quite a popular trail on the weekends if you like hiking among plenty of other people. For more of a solitary experience, hike in the early morning or on weekdays. This is a trail you can complete in 2-3 hours with a little bit of hutsle.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park contains a massive amount of trails for hiking, equestrian riding, mountain biking, camping, and relaxing. If we were to pick out each individual trail here, this blog would be never ending. Some notable parts worth mentioning here are the Visitors Loop Trail, Old Mission Dam, and Cowles Mountain. The Visitors Loop Trail is an easy hike and gives new hikers a good intro to San Diego’s outdoor scene by providing information on the area’s history via the visitor center. The Old Mission Dam (pictured above) is a nationally registered historical landmark and was the first major irrigation project on the Pacific Coast. Cowles Mountain is the highest point in San Diego and is quite a workout thanks to its 3 mile vertical climb. It’s a short distance, but trust us the incline will leave you wiped out. However, it will be worth it with awesome views from the summit.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

It’s almost difficult to imagine that such wild and rugged badlands terrain can be found beachside alongside the California Coast but that is exactly what you’ll find ar Torrey Pines State Reserve. You’ll also find some of the most spectacular coastal views along this trail. Pines, wildflower, and ocean abound; there is a lot to take in throughout the trail and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to miss the diverse wildlife. At one point, you can venture off on the Beach Trail and find yourself directly on the sandy shore of Torrey Pines State Beach. In many ways, this one trail encapsulates the diversity of California; desert, ocean, and beautiful, green vegetation all in one. The best part is that it is a relatively easy trail to hike nearly anyone can enjoy.

Bankers Hill Trail

This is more of a walk rather than a true hike, but it can also be thought of as more of an urban hike through the some of the older residences of Banker’s Hill. We decided to throw this trail here for those looking to depart from the conventional hiking experience. This “urban hike” is a trail nearby Downtown San Diego. The highlights are definitely the Quince St. trestle bridge and the Spruce St. suspension bridge, especially if you’re a fan of architecture along your hikes. This is a great trail that blends historical elegance with natural preservation. The benefits of this trail is that it is short, great to do year-round, and offers lots of photo opportunities.

Old Banner Toll Road Trail featuring Warlock Mine

This trail is located in Julian, CA, a city within San Diego county. Despite its distance from the more marquee San Diego cities, Julian is a prime location for outdoor enthusiasts. The allure of the Old Banner Toll Road Trail lies mainly in the historical significance of the area which played a big part in the California gold rush in the late 1800’s. Throughout this trail you’ll be able to find an abundance of old mineshafts worth exploring (including Warlock Mine) if spelunking is your thing. If you are planning on exploring some old mineshafts don’t forget to bring some headlamps or flashlights!

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