Hike Boulder Loop at Daley Ranch in North San Diego County
Phenomenal views? Check. Impressive geology? Check again. Secret ponds? Yep! Sprinkle in a historic home and you’ve got a highlight hike! At over 3,200 acres, Daley Ranch in Escondido is one of the largest parks in San Diego County, and its 25-mile trail system will take you more than one trip to complete. Start with the Boulder Loop Trail with a side visit to the Daley Ranch House for a 5.25-mile lollipop loop that offers a challenging workout (800 feet of gain) and more-than-worthy rewards.
Park at the green space’s southern entrance and dirt lot, just north of Dixon Lake, and download a map to peek at all the potential trekking. Head on the paved path under the ranch gate sign (ignore the dirt trail to the right; that goes to Stanley Peak) and start your ascent, with immediate vistas of Escondido to the south. At just past the half-mile mark, you reach an overlook with views of Middle Pond (an old stock pond from the ranching days), most likely dotted with coots, ducks, and egrets and cormorants if you’re lucky. You can take a spur trail to get a closer look; otherwise, continue north along the path.
Ignore the first two junctions for the Boulder Loop for now and continue on the paved path to the historic Daley Ranch house (open second Sunday of the month, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Built in 1925 by the pioneering Daley family, who once owned large tracts of land in the area, the beautiful redwood home is accompanied by some barns and old ranch equipment. You’ll notice the Jack Creek Meadow Trail just past the structures, which leads to a north park entrance, but turn around and head back to the Boulder Loop.
The house is charming, but the 2.5-mile Boulder Loop is the real star. You’ll pass under giant Engelmann and coast live oaks before being deposited into open meadows. The climb is a good workout, but the views are some of the best in the county—the rolling hills of the park are especially gorgeous after a rain and you can see deep into San Diego on clear days. You’ll also pass by huge rock outcroppings and giant granite specimens that inevitably gave the loop its name, perfect for a mid-hike rock scramble or a rugged picnic. Otherwise, there are benches and a shade structure at the apex of the loop to rest at before you descend and reconnect with the paved trail that takes you to the park entrance and your car.
To get to the Daley Ranch southern entrance, take the I-15 to the El Norte Pkwy. exit and head east. After 3.3 miles, turn left onto La Honda Dr. (you’ll see a sign for Daley Ranch and Dixon Lake). After 1.3 miles, find the dirt lot on your left and the park entrance directly in front of you. Dog-friendly!
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