Grasslands Galore

Hikes at Ramona Grasslands Preserve in northern San Diego County

Hiker at Ramona Grasslands Preserve in northern San Diego County

{MARCH 29, 2023 UPDATE: Due to the most recent storm, please be aware that there may be sudden trail closures and poor and hazardous conditions; check official websites before visiting, and exercise good judgement and caution.}

Sometimes the only path is the best path. At the sprawling 3,521-acre Ramona Grasslands Preserve in northern San Diego County, there are just two loops: the 2-mile Wildflower Loop and the 0.8-mile Meadow Loop. Connect them both via a 0.2-mile trail and you’ve got a 3.2 mile adventure that explores the best features of the park.

Hiker at Grasslands Preserve in northern San Diego County

Hiker looking out to the view at Ramona Grasslands Preserve in northern San Diego County

Park in the wide lot, grab a map, and head for the latched gate (don’t forget to close it after passing through as it’s home to a cattle range too). The Meadow Loop immediately confirms its name: expansive grasslands and rolling hills are all around you. The rocky outcropping on the summit of Mount Woodson provides an awe-inspiring backdrop to the west as you head left at the first junction. Along the path, stop and enjoy the giant, shade-offering gnarly oaks, an impressive site juxtaposed against the flat meadows.

The trail soon reaches the connector; head left here to reach the Wildflower Loop. It’s truly impossible to get lost, but it’s also hard to keep an eye on the trail as more towering oak specimens pop up, and some particularly large granite boulders as well. Turn left to take the loop clockwise, taking a brief spur trail to a shaded picnic area overlooking a pond. 

Upon returning to the loop, search the skies for red-tailed hawks or their larger cousins, soaring golden eagles. The trail climbs through a chaparral hillside and offers panoramic vistas of the surrounding Santa Maria Valley. It’s also a good idea to search the ground around you; the park boasts 40 different protected species, such as the arroyo toad and the Stephens’s kangaroo rat, but you may also catch a coyote or long-tailed weasel during the crepuscular hours.

You’ll eventually get to another shaded grove and picnic area, where local cattle beyond the fence may be hanging out. Continue along the wide dirt trail flanked by charming wooden rails back to the connector trail, and take the Meadow Loop going clockwise for a different—and still picturesque—return to the staging area and lot. 

To get to the Ramona Grasslands Preserve lot and trailhead, take the I-15 to the W. Bernardo Dr./Pomerado Rd. exit and head east on Pomerado Rd. Take the first left onto Highland Valley Rd. and head east for 10 miles, where you’ll turn left to stay on Highland Valley. After another 0.3 mile, find the preserve’s lot on your left. Dog friendly!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik, @mattitudehikes

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