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The 11 Best San Diego Hikes to Trek Next
Health & Fitness

The 11 Best San Diego Hikes to Trek Next

Offering views of the gorgeous coastline, undulating mountains, and otherwordly sunsets, these are the best hiking trails in San Diego.

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8 min read

May 18, 2021

Taking a hike is a great way to reduce stress and add a sense of adventure to any workout routine—a short hike in the forest beats a run on the treadmill any day. We can’t think of a better way to get your body in shape and clear your mind, all while reaping the benefits of being outside in nature on the best San Diego hikes.

The hiking trails in San Diego are among the most beautiful in the entire state, offering views of the city’s gorgeous beaches, undulating mountains, and deep canyons. While there are many San Diego hikes worth mentioning, here are a few of our top picks. 

The Top Hiking Trails In San Diego

Take a leisurely stroll along the La Jolla Beach Trail to admire breathtaking views of the San Diego coastline.

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Easy hikes in San Diego

1. La Jolla Beach Trail

Location: 11101 North Torrey Pines Place, La Jolla

Hours: Dusk–dawn

Parking: There’s a parking lot by the trailhead

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.1 miles

Time: 1 hour

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes

La Jolla is one of the best places to hike in San Diego thanks to its versatility. La Jolla Trails is suitable for hikers of all ages and skill levels, thanks to its relatively flat and easy-going nature. The pathway is also ideal for joggers, runners, cyclists, and the occasional fly-fisherman. Though crowded at times, the trail offers views of the Pacific Ocean, superb surf spots, and sunbathing seals. (For a fun adventure away from the crowds, go to the 42-acre La Jolla Heights Open Space—one of the area’s best kept secrets—to become one with nature.) Out of all the short hikes in San Diego, this one is a can’t-miss.

Admire the famous Torrey pines and sweeping ocean views while hiking through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

2. Torrey Pines Hike

Location: 12600 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla

Hours: 7:15 a.m.–sunset

Parking: Paid parking is available at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 3.3 miles

Time: 1–2 hours

Route: Loop 

Dogs allowed: No

As its name implies, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to the nation’s finest conifers—Torrey pines. The reserve has several hiking trails varying in length and difficulty, but one of the easiest and most beautiful is the Guy Fleming Trail. This loop trail is perfect for nature lovers, offers two overlooks with panoramic views, and has the greatest variety of wildflowers, ferns, cacti, and diverse habitats in the reserve.

To extend your adventures at Torrey Pines, you can also hike along the Parry Grove Trail, a secluded half-mile loop. There’s also the Razor Point Trail, which twists through coastal greenery, offering hikers a picturesque view of nature. If you’re planning a visit during the winter months, you might spot gray whales or dolphins as you trek along the coast. Although it’s a considerably steep climb, you’ll have a gorgeous view on one of the best trails in San Diego.

Kid-friendly hikes in San Diego

For an outdoor adventure filled with waterfalls, streams, and creek crossings, tackle the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail.

3. Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail

Location: 12020 Black Mountain Road, San Diego

Hours: 8 a.m.–sunset

Parking: Park in the lot near the trailhead

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 7.4 miles

Time: About 2.5 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

The Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is great for all hikers, regardless of their skill level. Complete with waterfalls, streams, and creek crossings, this adventure-filled route is fit for the whole family. The spectacular scenery makes this trail worth visiting.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve attracts many hikers for its beautiful views and rich biodiversity—the canyon is home to over 500 plant species, more than 175 types of birds, and a variety of reptiles and mammals. The 3,700-acre preserve features about 12 miles of hiking trails, making for an unforgettable adventure. Visit this easy San Diego hiking trail during spring to admire the fields in full bloom.

The Shelter Island Loop is a great dog-friendly spot to stroll along the shoreline and take in the views of Downtown.

4. Shelter Island Loop

Location: Shoreline Park, Shelter Island Drive

Hours: 6 a.m.–10:30 p.m.

Parking: Parking area available

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2.3 miles

Time: 1 hour

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

Looking to add a leisurely stroll to your San Diego itinerary? The Shelter Island Loop is a trail the whole family will enjoy. Primarily used for walking, running, and road biking, this is one of the best San Diego hikes for beginners and those who favor views over inclines. After your hike, spend the day exploring the dog-friendly park—an incredible place to destress during the day and take in the views of Downtown San Diego at night.

Dog-friendly hikes in San Diego

Head to Cowles Mountain to conquer one of the best San Diego mountain hikes and to see gorgeous panoramas of the region.

5. Cowles Mountain Trail

Location: 8282 Mesa Road, Santee

Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Parking: Free street parking is available near the start of the trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 5 miles

Time: 2 hours

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

Cowles Mountain is one of San Diego’s most popular hiking destinations. Although this trail is challenging, you can conquer the mountain—all you need is a bit of perseverance. The Cowles Mountain Trail is not very shaded (so start early), but the magnificent view at the top is definitely worth the effort. Once you reach the Cowles Mountain summit, panoramic views from Mexico to Orange County await you.

Climb to the Iron Mountain summit in Poway and be rewarded with views of San Diego County and distant Baja California Peninsula.

6. Iron Mountain Trail

Location: CA-67, Poway

Hours: Dawn–dusk

Parking: Park for free along the road, at the base of the mountain

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6 miles

Time: 3 hours

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

While the name itself is intimidating, the Iron Mountain Trail is manageable for beginner and advanced hikers alike—making it one of the most popular places for weekend hiking. Climb your way to the east side of the mountain to enjoy a breathtaking view. Iron Mountain is the second-highest peak in the Poway area—plan to visit this place to hike in San Diego on a clear day to see Mount Woodson and the Catalina Islands. 

The hiking trail is mostly a shadeless path, so plan accordingly and bring plenty of water. Other activities, such as mountain biking and horseback riding, are also recommended on this trail. If you’re an avid hiker or are in the mood for an extra challenge, the Iron Mountain Trail offers additional routes that take you to other mountain peaks.

Hike to Cuyamaca Peak, the second-highest point in San Diego County, to enjoy vistas of the surrounding region.

7. Cuyamaca Peak Loop Trail

Location: 12551 CA-79, Descanso

Hours: Dusk–dawn

Parking: There’s a parking lot available by the trailhead

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 7 miles

Time: 4-plus hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

One of the most rewarding aspects of any hike is the summit view, and Cuyamaca Peak delivers—it has an elevation of 6,512 feet, which is the second-highest point in San Diego County. The trail is located within the 24,700-acre Rancho State Park, which is home to beautiful oak and conifer forests, meadows, and mountain brooks that you’ll soon be calling your second home. With various hiking routes to choose from, including the Azalea Glen Loop and the Conejos Trail, you won’t regret the trek along one of the best hikes in San Diego County. No matter which route you choose, you’ll discover lush trees and granite rocks throughout your journey.

The hardest hikes in San Diego

Hike to Three Sisters Falls in Cleveland National Forest to experience one of the best waterfall hikes in San Diego.

8. Three Sisters Falls Trail

Location: Boulder Creek Road, Santa Ysabel

Hours: Dusk–dawn

Parking: Parking area available

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: 4.2 miles

Time: 2-plus hours

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: No

Considered a challenging journey, the Three Sisters Falls Trail spans across rugged, rocky terrain with steep inclines. But this path is also among the best waterfall hikes in SoCal, so if you’re an adventurous risk-taker, this one’s for you. Though the trail can be somewhat crowded, you’ll pass through several ecosystems along your journey before reaching three majestic waterfalls, making your efforts on one of the best hiking trails in San Diego worthwhile. Three Sisters is amazing for the adrenaline junkies—kick it up a notch with mountain climbing.

Trek to the top of Mount Woodson in Poway to snap photos of the iconic potato chip rock.

9. Potato Chip Rock via Mount Woodson Trail

Location: Lake Poway, 14644 Lake Poway Road, Poway

Hours: Dusk–dawn

Parking: Parking is available by the lake

Difficulty: Challenging

Distance: 7.5 miles

Time: 3-4 hours

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

As its unique name suggests, Potato Chip Rock is famous for its iconic shape (which resembles a chip) and is reachable by trekking along the Mount Woodson trail in Poway. Great for summer hiking adventures and photo-session indulgence, this must-do San Diego activity will lead you to the prominent rock and the Mount Woodson summit. While the hike uphill is challenging, the views are worth the trouble; you’ll be able to see Lake Poway, the Pacific Ocean, and even downtown San Diego from the top. 

Cool hikes in San Diego with incredible views

Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the premier parks for outdoor recreation in San Diego County. The Fortuna Mountain Trail is a must-hike.

10. Fortuna Mountain Trail

Location: Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Hours: Duskdawn

Parking: Available by the park visitor center

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6.3 miles

Time: 34 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

Also one of the best biking routes in San Diego, the Fortuna Mountain Trail is a treat. You’ll share the wildflower studded trail with other hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. Trekking this beautiful San Diego hike is great on its own, but if you’re looking for more of a challenge, try following the trail counterclockwise. You’ll climb the steepest part of the route rather than descend it, and put your arm muscles to work.

Hiking to Black Mountain via Rolling Hills is pretty rocky with steep inclines, but the trail quickly levels out. Photo courtesy of AllTrails.

11. Black Mountain via Rolling Hills

Location: Black Mountain Open Space, San Diego

Hours: Dusk–dawn

Parking: Parking area available

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 6.5 miles

Time: 34 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: Yes, but they must remain on a leash

The Black Mountain via Rolling Hills Trail is slightly off-the-beaten-path without compromising the scenery. You have steep inclines, great biodiversity, and a rocky road to look forward to. As one of the best hikes near San Diego, this trail gives you a good workout and killer views you’ll come back for time and time again.

Looking for more adventure? Refuele with an indulgent California burrito, hit the water, take a scenic drive, or explore the bustling city center after your San Diego hike.

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