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. One of its key attractions is the Los Penasquitos Canyon waterfall right in the center. This is our guide to the waterfall and the various ways it can be accessed.
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. However, you can start from the west side as well.
You can download a nice trail map here. For convenience we have marked the various trailheads we discuss here and numbered them 1 to 7.
Western End Start (No 1 on Map)
The hike from the west side trailhead is 6 miles roundtrip and it is more exposed and less scenic. You start from the parking lot at Sorrento Valley Boulevard and simply walk 3 miles to the waterfall. The trail is on the south side of the creek but there are two crossings to the north side. Wagon’s Wheel Crossing is about one mile and Sycamore Crossing is around two miles in. However, there are fewer options from the west side.
Eastern End Start
The east side of Los Penasquitos Canyon has more options. For a 6 to 7-mile hike you can do our hike that starts at either the Ranch House or the parking lot of Black Mountain Rd. This is our preferred route for a solid hike. However, we know from experience it is a long distance for smaller children. Out of necessity our children helped introduce us to some of the shorter trails. On the map the Ranch House area is number 2 at the Black Mountain Rd lot is Number 3.
For a shorter 4-mile hike you can start from the parking lot at Penasquitos Creek Park off Park Village Road by Park Village Elementary. This is a flat, but fairly exposed 2-mile walk to the waterfall along the north side of the canyon. This number 4 on the map.
An even shorter option of only about 2.5 miles roundtrip is to drive to the end of Park Village Road. Where it meets with Celome Dr there is parking and a trailhead. The trail is a short walk down along powerlines to the north trail. Signs will point the way to the waterfall. This is number 5 on the map.
Camino Ruiz Trail
New trails are being opened on a regular basis. If you are coming from south of the preserve in Mira Mesa there is now the option to take the Camino Ruiz Trail from Camino Ruiz Park. This is 2.5 miles roundtrip and involves hiking down into and out of the canyon. This is not yet on the official map but we have placed it as number 6.
Del Mar Mesa
A similar option is available from the north side from Del Mar Mesa. This is near where Mick Jagger hiked in 2015 on what we dubbed the Rolling Stone Trail. Coming from this area on some of the new trails is probably overall the shortest option. However, because it involves hiking down and up the canyon it is harder than the end of Park Village entrance. It should also be noted that this is a new area with gated communities and limited parking options. This is number 7 on the map.
There are two trails down from Del Mar Mesa at this writing. One trail down to the canyon is around Carmel Mountain and Duck Pond Lane. There is some parking on the side of Carmel Mountain Rd road right by a park next to Duck Pond Ln. The trail is about a 100 yards down Carmel Mountain Rd and is clearly marked. Otherwise parking in this area is very limited. The other trail down is nearby at Carmel Mountain and Kinsbury Ridge Court. You head down by the powerline tower and make a right at the 4-way intersection.
Note this is an area being developed so this may change. Depending on where you park this is a 2-3 mile walk with about 200 feet in elevation down and back.
If you have seen a lot of waterfalls the Los Penasquitos Canyon Waterfall might come as a disappointment. This is Southern California and any type of running fresh water is a big deal. This waterfall is more a downward run in the creek. That being said it is definitely worthwhile.
The main attraction is the rocks and scenery. There is plenty of climbing around and the views are really a great indication of what the area was like before development. Native Americans have been here for over 6,000 years. You can still find remnants of the Kumeyaay Indians.
Kids love climbing on the rocks, but it should be noted that it can be quite hazardous. Not only are the rocks quite slippery but it is easy to trip and fall climbing around.
Also note if you have a mountain bike this is a great introductory trail.