San Elijo Lagoon is on the border between Solana Beach and Cardiff-by-the-Sea in Encinitas. It has some great hiking and nature viewing opportunities. However, much of the areais closed for work on the Interstate 5 bridge crossing the lagoon. Thankfully the reopening of Annie’s Canyon Trail make San Elijo Lagoon a great place to visit even with the construction.
Starting Point: N Rios Ave, Solana Beach, CA, on maps sometimes called Mushroom Caves
Length: 1.7 miles
Elevation: about 150 ft gain and loss
Annie’s Canyon Trail officially reopened in the summer of 2016. It had been closed because the area was prone to vandalism and was used as a party spot for teenagers. Now the graffiti has been scrubbed and the canyon is back to its natural state. For a good example of what it looked prior to restoration see this overview at Sun Kissed Hiker (it was known as Mushroom Caves)
While construction is being done there is only one access point off N. Rios Avenue Trailhead in Solana Beach. Thankfully there is plenty of free parking on the street. The trail is clearly marked at the cul-de-sac at the end of Rios.
As you head down into the lagoon you will have a choose of taking what I call the high road or the low road. The high road trail is marked by a sign pointing you to the right to Annie’s Canyon Trail. We usually go this way and come back on the low road trail that runs directly along the lagoon. However, either way will get you to Annie’s Canyon Trail.
The trail is clearly marked and runs a flat 0.6 miles to a clearing where Annie’s Canyon Trail is off to the right. As you look up you are likely to see hikers above you on the rocks at the top of the trail. These are eroding sandstone walls that you can find in several areas in San Diego, such as our hike to Black’s Beach on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Annie’s Canyon Trail is basically a quarter mile loop through a narrow slot canyon. The sign at the bottom tells you that going right is strenuous, while going left is a moderate climb to the observation point. Annie’s Canyon Trail is narrow and one-way. Going right will get you to the same observation point as going left.
In terms of being strenuous, all things are relative. The slot canyon is narrow and steep in some parts, but it is not much harder than walking up a few flights of stairs. Near the end there are several ladders to get you up the steepest part. We have seen quite a few kindergarten age kids doing this no problem.
When you get to the top you will come to a platform that overlooks the canyon, the lagoon and the Pacific Ocean about a mile to the west. It is classic San Diego view from about 200-feet above sea level.
As mentioned, Annie’s Canyon Trail is one-way. You will head down the left side of the trail which is marked as moderate for people that just want the view and do not want to climb the canyon. In my opinion either way you climb up is equally difficult. The main issue with climbing the narrow slot canyon is scraping your knees on the sandstone (I have done that a few times).
Assuming you hiked in on the high road, it is well worth heading back on the low road. You can get some great lagoon views and there are benches for bird watching or just enjoying the scenery. The roundtrip is under 2 miles and a visit here can be done in less than an hour.
San Elijo Lagoon has some great trails that we plan to cover in more detail when construction is completed. For now our favorite areas are Annie’s Canyon Trail, the nature center and the entrance to the lagoon at Cardiff State Beach.