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 Margaret Fleming Nature Trail and Red Ridge 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: 1.7 miles
Elevation: 250-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 Margaret Fleming Nature Trail and Red Ridge Trail.
Margaret Fleming Nature Trail goes from one end of the extension to the other. We start at Del Mar Scenic Parkway and go until it reaches Del Mar Heights Elementary School. At this point, it meets up with the extremely short Red Ridge Loop Trail. If you wanted to start from this end there is parking along Mira Montana Dr by the school.
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 right takes you on Margaret Fleming Nature Trail while going right is our second hike up Mar Scenic Trail and DAR Trail. The trails are clearly marked. There are also usually maps available at all the entrances.
The trail is a gradual climb up the bluffs. You will see lots of sage. In the spring there are often wildflowers. This is beautiful, but it can also mean a lot of bees. We have not done this hike in the springtime for awhile because our kids got scared by the large number of bees.
As you climb up the bluff you will see the eroded sandstone. There are signs posted to keep you on the trail and away from the sandstone bluffs. However, I admit we have mistakenly wandered off the trail following the footsteps of many others.
As you head towards the elementary school the trail is clearly marked with ropes. On the map, it looks like Red Ridge Trail is a separate entrance down Mira Montana Dr. The reality is that right before the elementary school the trail bears off to the right and becomes Red Ridge Trail.
Red Ridge Trail is an extremely short walk along the bluffs. You get great views to the ocean, Penasquitos Lagoon and towards the La Jolla/UTC area to the south. The trail loops back along by some houses along Mira Montana Drive and meets up with Margaret Fleming Trail at the trailhead in the cul-de-sac.
From here you simply head back the way you came. The total distance is only about 1.7 miles.
One reason we like to start from the Del Mar Scenic Parkway entrance is because it also has access to the other trails in this extension. As mentioned, we like to combine the trails into a 3.5 mile hike. For a guide to hiking DAR Trail and Mar Scenic Trail go here.