Los Penasquitos Canyon is a great 4,000 acre open space area of San Diego right by our house. Operated by San Diego Parks and Recreation it contains not only a historic adobe house but also plenty of hiking, biking and horse riding trails. This is our guide to a walk from near the adobe house to the water fall in the center of the preserve.
Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve runs from the Interstate 5/805 merge in the west about 7 miles to the 15 Interstate in the east. We live on the east end of the preserve and most of our hikes start from this area. One of the big attractions of the preserve is the waterfall right in the middle of the park. This is our guide to our favorite 6-7-mile hike to the waterfall.
Starting Point: Los Peñasquitos Ranch House, Canyonside Park Driveway, San Diego, CA 92129
Length: 6 to 7miles
Elevation: mostly flat
Note, this hike is not the only way to reach the waterfall. For young kids we do a shorter hike that starts from side roads further into the park. We have done a separate guide to the waterfall and various access points.
We like to start near the Los Penasquitos Canyon Ranch House (Rancho de los Penasquitos). This is a nice attraction in its own right and usually there is quite a bit of free parking in one of several lots or right by the ballfields at Canyonside Community Park. There is also a parking area right off Black Mountain Rd. You can see download the official map here. Just note, as of this writing, it is not up-to-date concerning the many trails being built on the preserve’s edges.
For this hike we like to walk on the south side of the creek and come back along the north side of the creek. This means crossing the creek at Ranch House Crossing. Simply follow the signs to the crossing. Of course, it is perfectly fine to follow the trail on the north side of the creek.
There are quite a few trails in the preserve and you can feel free to follow any of them. It is a canyon so it is hard to get lost. Just walk between the two mesas to the north and south. From Ranch House Crossing to the third creek crossing at Carson’s Creek there are narrow side split off trails. In theory, mountain bikes are not allowed on these narrower trails and they provide much appreciated shade and better scenery.
If you are biking, or walking with a larger group, you can just stick to the wider gravel road. Past Carson’s Crossing you will be on the road the final short stretch to the waterfall. At the start of the road right past Ranch House Crossing you can see Eicher’s Grave on your left. This is the burial place for a ranch hand. The first side path is on the right side of the road right past the grave.
There are all kinds of native plant and animal species hidden in the trails near the creek. Once hiking on the side trail, I came across a group of 6 deer. I have also seen bobcats, coyote and the occasional rattlesnake. Unfortunately, as the area has become more developed sightings have been fewer.
This is a good longer introductory hike for kids. The route is flat right up until the waterfall. Right after the 3-mile marker, you will walk up a short hill and see clearly marked signs for the waterfall. Kids love the waterfall. It is modest in waterfall terms, but the rock formations are great for climbing. As mentioned there are shorter ways to reach the waterfall if you don’t want to do the full hike. For a more detailed look see our guide here.
After relaxing at the waterfall, often with a snack. We usually carefully cross the creek to the north side. Right on the road back you will see a sign post where the road splits. If you head left you can go to Del Mar Mesa and see our Rolling Stone trail where Mick Jagger hiked when he was in San Diego. To get back to the ranch house bear to the right, once again hugging the creek.
There are also some side trails on the north side. However, overall this side is more exposed and not quite as scenic. If you like you can choose to cross to the south side at either Carson’s Crossing or Penasquitos Park Crossing. If you do this simply follow the trail back the way you came and cross again at Ranch House Crossing.
Assuming you are still following the north side trail, it will eventually put you on the back side of the ranch house. The parking lots are right on the other side of the ranch.
Note that this is pretty much a straight east west hike. Depending on time of day you may want to do the hike in reverse. We tend to do it later in the afternoon when the sun is in the west. We like to do the more shaded south trail first, so the sun will be at our back on the way back.
As mentioned this is only one of many options for hiking this area. This is also a great, easy area for mountain biking. There is also a nearby equestrian center for those that like to ride horses. But this hike has been a family favorite for many years.