The Best Hikes in San Diego Have Stunning Coastal Cliffs, Waterfalls, and Even Views of Mexico
Breaking news: Hiking is the new yoga, and we’ve got stats to prove it. According to Merrell, the No. 1 outdoor rugged footwear brand in the world, participation in hiking is up 22.5% since 2014. And hiking is the fourth most popular outdoor activity in the U.S. with 45 million annual participants. So if you’ve resolved to hike more this year, you’re extremely on-trend, because hiking is officially in vogue.
One of the (many) reasons for the popularity surge is that hiking, just like yoga, is actually proven to reduce your stress levels. Research conducted at Chiba University in Japan revealed that a 15-minute walk in the woods reduces cortisol (a stress hormone) levels by 16% and blood pressure by 2%.
Whether you’re hoping to unwind in the woods or you’re looking to stay active on vacation, seeking out great hikes can continually motivate you to #optoutside. If you’re planning a trip to southern California, or you live in the San Diego area, now’s the time to be scouting new hiking trails. California has such a wealth of terrain, and the best hikes of San Diego prove that the perpetually sunny city has something for everyone. From paved walking paths right by the beach to peaks Cheryl Strayed tackled in Wild, here are the top San Diego hikes.
Mt. Woodson Summit
Famed home of Potato Chip Rock, the Mt. Woodson Summit hiking trail is an adventure-gram moment if ever there was one. (Because Potato Chip Rock extends out over nothingness, it’s become a classic southern California photo op.) The Mt. Woodson hike is a challenging seven-and-a-half miles and yields one breathtaking view after another. There are steep inclines, but on the plus side, it’s dog-friendly, so you can bring a furry companion to cheer you on.
Cedar Creek Falls to Devil’s Punch Bowl
The name alone really sells it. For this hike, you’ll take the Cedar Creek Falls Trail to the Devil’s Punch Bowl, which is a pool at the base of Cedar Creek Falls. It can really heat up in the summer, and the hike is fairly strenuous, so be sure to pack lots of water and protein-filled snacks.
Torrey Pines State Park
Torrey Pines is a quintessential La Jolla hike in that you’re guaranteed views of sparkling blue waves crashing against jagged bluffs. It’s actually located directly above La Jolla, but below Del Mar. Follow this hiking guide for a three-mile loop covering multiple trails — it will show you the best of Torrey Pines, from the coastal views to the famed Torrey pine trees, which are the rarest pine in the country.
The peak is in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which has some elevation, so you’ll see plenty of snow-capped trees if you do this hike in the winter. There are 37 trails in the state park, but you’ll want to stick to Azalea Glen Loop. It’s a challenging seven-mile hike that will bring you right to Cuyamaca Peak.
Cowles’ claim to fame is that it’s the highest point in San Diego — so it’s worth visiting purely for the fact that you can see Mexico from the peak. The three-mile hike is moderately difficult, but if you’re willing to wake up before the sun, Cowles Mountain is a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise. It’s one of San Diego’s most popular hikes, so starting early might also make for a less-crowded trail.
Coast to Crest Trail to Lake Hodges
Located in Escondido, the perfect southern California hiking day involves quality time on the Coast to Crest trail followed by a stop at Stone Brewing. The Coast to Crest Trail, when completed, will span 70 miles of southern California terrain, from Del Mar to Volcan Mountain. The out-and-back trail to Lake Hodges is seven and a half miles, but the terrain isn’t overly strenuous.
Pacific Crest Trail to Garnet Peak
Feeling inspired by Cheryl Strayed and Reese Witherspoon these days? If so, you can hop on the Pacific Crest Trail bandwagon in San Diego, and hike a portion of it within Cleveland National Forest. This moderate-to-difficult hike starts at the Penny Pines Trailhead and goes up to Garnet Peak, where the views are otherworldly.
Take the trail from Swami’s Beach to Cardiff Beach and you’ll experience spectacular ocean views and the smooth sound of waves crashing onto the sand. (And for those who are hesitant to try a cliffside hike, don’t worry, there’s a safety railing.) An easy out-and-back hike, the path is accessible from Swami’s Beach and is about three miles total.