Daley Dose of Zen

Hike the Engelmann Oak Loop at Daley Ranch in Escondido

Trees, views, and solitude—that’s a top-tier trifecta when it comes to hiking. Get it at Escondido’s Daley Ranch via the 5-mile Engelmann Oak loop, featuring stunning north county vistas and rare sightings of its namesake oaks.

Park in the dirt lot at Daley Ranch’s northwesternmost entrance off of Cougar Pass Road. While the 3200-acre preserve has over 25 miles of trails, this secluded entrance is far less visited than the park’s southern entrance off La Honda Drive.

Find the Cougar Ridge trailhead behind a gate to the left (east) of the lot. The hike begins through an expansive grassy meadow full of buckwheat and other chaparral staples before dipping into a shady haven, where your first Engelmann oak specimens (and coast live oaks) create a fairy-tale-like woodland setting. At about three quarters of a mile, you’ll reach a junction and the start of your loop, heading left to begin a steep ascent (you’ll gain over 1000 feet in total!).

It’s a tough climb. The reward is epic vistas of the surrounding preserve and hilly north county neighborhoods. The namesake stars of the journey, however, are scattered prominently across the grassy ridge. Since you will also be treated to their more common coast live oak cousins, it is worth looking for descriptors. Engelmanns tend to have larger, more twisted limbs and more elliptical leaves. Are they the rarest local oak? Yes. Are they the most majestic? You make the call. Either way, soak in the beauty as you continue along the plateau, gaining more panoramic views to the east.

At about 1.75 miles you’ll reach a junction with the Bobcat Trail, which can provide a shortcut heading south if you’re pressed for time; otherwise continue for another half-mile before reaching another junction. This spur trail also provides a small shortcut and flanks Burnt Mountain, the small but prominent peak to the south (note for peak-baggers: there is no trail to the actual summit!). Instead continue on, passing another junction—this time on your left for Jack Meadow Creek, which can take you all the way to the historic ranch. You’ll soon pass through another gorgeous (and very much welcomed) oak woodland on the way to the final junction with the Cougar Ridge Trail. Head right for the conclusive descent, making sure to catch some final views before following a stream though a—you guessed it—oak woodland to your car. A-Oaky!

To get to the Cougar Ridge trailhead and lot in Daley Ranch, take the I-15 to the Deer Springs Rd. exit and head east. Deer Springs Rd. immediately becomes Mountain Meadow Rd. After 2 miles it becomes Hidden Meadows Rd. After another 0.2 mile, take a left onto Granite Ridge Rd., followed by an immediate right onto Meadow Glen Way East, which becomes Cougar Pass Rd. The dirt lot will be on your right after 1.1 miles. Dog-friendly!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik, @mattitudehikes

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