The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension is a little-known area of San Diego’s popular State Park. This slightly inland area is a quiet, well-preserved view of what coastal San Diego looked like before mass development. This is our guide to hiking Torrey Pines Reserve Extension DAR and Mar Scenic Trail.
Starting Point: end of Del Mar Scenic Parkway (optional entrance on the other end of the park at end of Mar Scenic Dr).
Length: 1.75 miles
Elevation: 200-foot gain and loss
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve was formed as a state park in 1959. The nearly 200-acre extension was added in 1970, saving much of the area from development. The entrance to the extension is right in suburban neighborhoods.
One of the advantages of Torrey Pines Reserve Extension is that parking is plentiful and free. We almost always like to park near the end of Del Mar Scenic Parkway off of Carmel Valley Road. On the other side of the park, there are entrances at the end of Mar Scenic Drive and Mira Montana Drive. Both are located a short distance from the I-5 freeway off of Del Mar Heights.
There are 4 official trails in Torrey Pines Reserve Extension. Hiking all 3 trails is only about 3.5 miles and can be done in an hour (assuming you are not stopping to enjoy the scenery). We have divided the extension into two hikes of about 1.7 miles each. This hike combines Mar Scenic Trail with the DAR Trail.
Mar Scenic Trail goes from one end of the extension to the other. We start at Del Mar Scenic Parkway and go until it ends at Mar Scenic Drive. You could simply go back the way you came, but adding the more scenic DAR Trail makes this hike a loop.
The trailhead starts right from the cul-de-sac at the end of Del Mar Scenic Parkway. A short distance in the trail splits, heading to the left takes you on Mar Scenic Trail while going right is our second hike up Margaret Fleming Nature Trail. The trails are clearly marked. There are also usually maps available at all the entrances.
The trail is a gradual climb. At 0.2 miles in you come across the intersection with DAR Trail to your left. This turnoff is marked but can be easy to miss. We continue on Mar Scenic Trail. The trail climbs up a canyon and ends at about a half mile at the Mar Scenic Drive cul-de-sac. Right before you get to the end you will see the second turnoff for the DAR Trail. Once again it is on the left.
The DAR Trail is named for Daughters of the American Revolution. This trail climbs a short distance up a ridge where you can get great views of both the beach and inland San Diego. There are also nice views of Penasquitos Lagoon.
The first stop along the trail is at a clearing with a DAR marker. There are also some benches where you can sit and enjoy the view. A short distance on you will come to an intersection where the trail goes in 3 directions. Heading down to your left will take you back to the first intersection with Mar Scenic Trail. However, you can also hike a very short distance out to two overlooks.
This area is about as close to a forest as you will find in the coastal area of San Diego. There are 1,500 Torrey Pine trees in the extension, almost as many as in the full park. Many of the trees are located in this area.
If you do the hike in spring you are likely to see many wildflowers (assuming the winter was not dry). One issue is that means there will be a lot of bees. We have not done this hike in spring for a long time because our kids get freaked out by bees.
From the overlooks, it is a short downhill walk to Mar Scenic Trail. Simply turn right when you reach the trail and walk the short 0.2 miles back to the trailhead.
One reason we like to start from the Del Mar Scenic Parkway entrance is that it also has access to other trails in this extension. As mentioned, we like to combine the trails into a 3.5-mile hike. For a guide to hiking, Margaret Fleming Nature Trail and Red Ridge Trail go here.
Unlike the main section of Torrey Pines State Reserve, the extension is rarely crowded. Usually, you will only see a handful of other hikers. I have gone mid-day during the week and had the trail all to myself.