Fitness on the Cheap Tuesdays – A Little Magic in North County

Despite my love of urban living, I must admit that there is something magical and quite valuable about those places in San Diego that are still rural and a bit wild.  When I first moved to San Diego county, I didn’t settle in Downtown right away – I made a few stop overs along the way as I made my way South.  One of those stops included renting a house in a place just beyond San Marcos, in an area that has since been developed into what is now San Elijo Hills.

Before there were schools, gas stations, shopping plazas, condos, or enormous houses around San Elijo, there were only winding roads, horse trails, the occasional deer, and The Elfin Forest.

The community there hasn’t gone quietly into the night, but instead continued to fight the encroachment of suburbanization into their wide open spaces.  As a result, much of what I loved about that area can still be found and enjoyed.  If you’re curious about one of my most cherished places in San Diego, the details are after the jump.

The park gets it’s name as a result of the three habitats that can be found on the 450 acre reserve.  Within the forest visitors can experience Chaparral, Coastal Sage Scrub, and Riparian Oak Woodland habitats, potentially all in one hike.  This unique mix causes the area to be a bit waterlogged in the winter and extremely arid in the summer; the trees adapt to this demanding climate by being smaller and more compact (hence the cute elfin nickname, though maybe some children might believe that elves live there…).  Whichever season you decide to go in, I suggest you bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

There are several options for hikers of all levels.  The trails are well marked and very well maintained;  many include call outs to native species of plants.  The “Way Up” trail will take you about a mile and a half and about 1200 feet of elevation gain up the mountain for a spectacular panoramic look around North County.  Once here, there are several branching trails that traverse the reserve and make repeat visits worthwhile.  If you’re feeling like a challenge, there is a 9 mile trail that will take you over the mountain all the way to Lake Hodges.

Image licensed under the Creative Commons via Jenster181 - check out her flickr stream for more!

Image licensed under the Creative Commons via Jenster181 - check out her flickr stream for more!

In addition to the “Way Up” trail there are a few strolling paths that will take you through trees to the creek and several dog and kid friendly paths to facilitate exploration and adventure.  I’ve generally found that kids/dogs + forest + creek = awesome. A full listing of all the trails and a detailed map may be found at the reserve’s official website.

The park opens daily at 8am and is generally open until about 30 minutes before sunset.  To get here from downtown requires a bit of a drive (about an hour), but it’s completely worth it. If you can, go on a weekday when the park is at its most quiet and you can really enjoy all that it has to offer.

Simply take the 5 North, exit Leucadia Blvd and take a right.  Continue on Leucadia until it becomes Rancho Santa Fe Rd and then take another right onto San Elijo Rd.  Follow San Elijo for a few miles and finally take a right onto Elfin Forest Rd.  Follow this for another several miles and you will see signs for the reserve.  The driveway to the trail head is right after Elfin Forest Rd becomes Harmony Grove Rd.

A handy google maps link:

No additional workout suggestions this week, enjoy the hike!

1 Comment so far

  1. juliewright on March 14th, 2009 @ 10:55 am

    I’m regularly hiking Del Dios Highlands County Preserve which is accessed from the Del Dios Highway and is a steep 1.3 mile hike up to the top. It’s beautiful at the top. And a great workout… I have been meaning to try to the Harmony Grove / Elfin Forest trail for a long time. It sounds beautiful.

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