The Twelve Trails of December

NEWS // November 30, 2017

The Twelve Trails of December

‘Tis the season for holiday parties and food- and drink-laden leisure. Why not balance those festive occasions with some fun in the sun, San Diego County Parks style? Here are 12 trail options, from easy to tough:  

Tijuana River Valley Regional Park

The flat and wide 2.7-mile Dairy Mart Loop Trail is boot, bike and horse-friendly. Look up to see birds flying along the Pacific Flyway, and down to the pond to see where they forage and nest. Ocean breezes keep this regional park cool despite warm South-County temperatures.

Ramona Grasslands County Preserve

Venture through grasslands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodlands, swales and alkali playas on a path with very little elevation change when you complete all 4 miles of trails. This is a popular spot for equestrians and Ramona locals. Hike the Wildflower Loop virtually!

Agua Caliente County Park

Snowbirds and desert-dwellers unite in this Anza-Borrego Desert campground that boasts three naturally fed hot springs and a 1.7-mile loop trail with 350 feet of elevation gain/loss. [Safely] surround yourself with ocotillo, cactus and a plethora of heat-seeking critters like snakes and Big Horn Sheep. Sorry, no dogs. Hike it virtually, or join us for a ranger-led excursion.   

Helix Flume Trail

Our newest hike sits in Lakeside, just west of the magnificent rocky face of El Cajon Mountain. Staff from nearby El Monte County Park patrol the trail as both locations contain remnants of the historic flume that once carried water from the mountains to the valley. Only 0.8 miles, it’s a quick climb with a steep switchback, bookended by interpretive signs with historic data at the base and summit. Try it online!

Flinn Springs County Park

This shady play space has punch packed into its 2.5 miles of trails. But steep areas give way to gorgeous viewpoints – a must-see if you are in east county. Visit at night with an interpretive hike – the next one’s scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 10

Oakoasis County Preserve

Ideal for hikers, Oakoasis County Preserve boasts nearly 400 acres of chaparral, manzanita, and woodlands, with 2.5 miles of trails that are part of the future Trans-County Trail system – destined to travel from desert to coast. Stunning views are found in all directions at this hilltop retreat. Head over on Dec. 9 and stay for a family-friendly star party!

Wilderness Gardens County Preserve

Rangers agree: This is a great hiking locale in winter months, offering more than 4 miles of easy-to-moderate trails with historic sites and water features that are sure to please any picture-taker. Take the Alice Fries Trail to the San Luis Rey River, and the Upper Meadow Trail for better views of the river corridor... December events include a Saturday Morning Hike and a Wilderness Gardens Trail Trek.

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

Volcan Mountain is a stargazer’s paradise and designated Dark Sky Zone, towering over Julian with views of the Pacific Ocean and the Salton Sea. The trail is anywhere from 5 to 7 miles depending on where you go once you’re at the top, and if you have a ranger escort… On Dec. 2, participate in a Super Full Moon Hike and sightseeing experience!

Santa Ysabel County Preserves – East and West

Discover 18.5 miles of trails in this scenic mountain preserve, including two loop trails that wind through oak woodlands and native grasslands. The Santa Ysabel Creek runs along the entire northern boundary, offering respite for horses. Discover the Hidden Trails of the West Preserve on Dec. 9 or Join the Kanaka Fall Hike on the east side Dec. 17!    

Hellhole Canyon County Preserve

There are 13.5 miles of moderate-to-advanced trails in this 1,907-acre preserve. The main trail descends from the staging area to the riparian zone astride Hell Creek, lined by mature Sycamore and oak trees, and continues to Rodriguez Mountain where the path gets tougher and views get prettier.

Mt. Gower County Preserve

Not to be upstaged by Mt, Woodson, Mt. Gower offers an 8.2-mile out-and-back hike that is considered moderately strenuous, thanks to a fierce switchback that separates sandy terrain from hill-top slabs of granite. The undulating ridgeline provides an awesome workout, decorated by boulders naturally crafted into fanciful shapes.

El Capitan County Preserve

The 12-mile roundtrip trail runs uphill both ways with steep climbs and drops, limited shade, and slippery gravel that puts participants’ mental and physical stamina to the test. It is considered the hardest climb in the County, but cooler weather makes it a little more bearable… Now is the time to try it – like this guy!

Consider hitting the trails this December… it’ll boost your energy while burning some of those extra calories. Don’t forget to download our Easy2Hike app, and learn more at