Hike at Encinitas Ranch for Mountain and Sea Views in San Diego County
Rare Torrey pines, striking sandstone bluffs, mountain and ocean vistas ... find these trademark San Diego features on an unassuming suburban hike! Head to the Encinitas Ranch community next to the eponymous golf course for a 2.75-mile loop with about 300 feet of elevation gain and opportunities for more local adventure.
Park along Paseo De Las Flores just north of the golf course and Quail Gardens Drive. The trailhead will be alongside a colorful floral display next to an Encinitas Ranch sign, across from an agricultural field (download a map too!). Head east past a little free library, ascending a dirt track flanking a white picket fence. You’ll soon reach the high point of the hike, overlooking the neighborhood of Rancho Ponderosa and prominent peaks beyond. On a clear day, you can actually see five mountain ranges: San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, Palomar, Julian, and Cuyamaca from left to right.
It’s a fantastic panorama, but what’s even better is that this segment of the trail travels under majestic, rare specimens of Torrey pines and, though they were purposefully planted here, it’s a treat to see their curled branches and long needles. You’ll also find California sycamores and eucalyptus here (though no oaks, despite “Encinitas” meaning “little oaks” in Spanish), providing plenty of shade. Take time to find multiple spur trails heading east. This is the Hidden Ridge Trail, which travels parallel to the Ranch Loop Trail you’re on and gives you an up-close view of the sandstone bluffs. Take time to explore this path, and for extra mileage and elevation, take it down past chaparral to Garden View Road before heading back up to the Ranch Loop.
After a memorial statue for a local pooch, the trail curves west and provides you with a welcome surprise—nice views of the Pacific as you work to complete the loop. The path eventually curves north (turning right at Las Verdes Park), but you can optionally continue west to run into Quail Gardens Drive and the entrance to the must-visit San Diego Botanic Garden. Otherwise, continue north along the cactus- and bougainvillea-dotted hillside that borders the golf course and your eventual deposit at the starting point and your car.
To get to the Encinitas Ranch Loop trailhead, take the I-5 to the Leucadia Blvd. exit and head east. After 0.8 mile on Leucadia Blvd., take a right onto Quail Gardens Dr. followed by an immediate left onto Paseo De Las Flores. After 0.3 mile, the trailhead (and street parking) will be on your left. Dog-friendly!
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