10 Best Hikes in San Diego for You to Go Explore This Year

Cowles Mountain Summit at sunset. The highest point in the city of San Diego and a popular urban hike.
Photo: Samuel Antonio/Getty Images

Breaking news: Hiking is the new yoga, and we've got stats to prove it. According to a recent report by Statista, the number of Americans participating in hiking has risen from nearly 30 million in 2006 to just over 57 million in 2020. 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, 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 live in the San Diego area, now's the time to scout out places to hike. California has such a wealth of terrain, and these San Diego hiking trails prove that the perpetually sunny city has something for everyone. From paved walking paths right by the beach to the same peaks Cheryl Strayed tackled in Wild, here are the top hiking trails in San Diego.

01 of 10

Mt. Woodson Summit

Potato Chip Rock, Mount Woodson near San Diego, California
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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.

02 of 10

Cedar Creek Falls to Devil's Punch Bowl

Cedar Creek Falls
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The name alone really sells it. For this hike, you'll take the Cedar Creek Falls Trail to the Devil's Punch Bowl, 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.

03 of 10

Torrey Pines State Park

Torrey Pines State Reserve with Black's Beach, San Diego
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Torrey Pines is the 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 coastal views to the famed Torrey pine trees, which are the rarest pine in the country.

04 of 10

Cuyamaca Peak

Cuyamaca Peak and El Cajon View From Mt. Helix Park
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The peak is located 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 the Azalea Glen Loop, a challenging seven-mile hike that will bring you right to Cuyamaca Peak.

05 of 10

Cowles Mountain

Cowles Mountain Summit at sunset. The highest point in the city of San Diego and a popular urban hike.
Samuel Antonio/Getty Images

Cowles' claim to fame is that it's the highest point in San Diego — it's worth visiting purely for the fact that you can see Mexico from its 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 mean a less-crowded trail.

06 of 10

Coast to Crest Trail to Lake Hodges

California, Escondido, Lake Hodges Dam
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Located in Escondido, the perfect southern California hiking day involves some 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.

07 of 10

Pacific Crest Trail to Garnet Peak

At the head of the Pacific Crest trail leading down into Borrego Springs
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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.

08 of 10

Swami's Beach

Swamis beach on sunny day, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, San Diego County, California
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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. 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.

09 of 10

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail

Los Penasquitos Canyon San Diego
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Just a 30-minute ride from downtown San Diego, this scenic 6.8-mile loop trail through the 4,000-acre preserve covers the canyon and boasts a striking waterfall. History buffs should stop by the historic Rancho de Los Peñasquitos Adobe, built in 1823. Watch out for wildlife, as there are more than 500 species of plants and 175 kinds of birds here, as well as bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, and rattlesnakes, among other canyon-dwelling critters.

10 of 10

Balboa Park Trails

Balboa Park Trails in San
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You don't even have to leave the city to go on a great hike. San Diego's impressive 1,200-acre urban oasis, Balboa Park, includes 65 miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty, 19 of which begin at one of five gateway points at Park Boulevard, Golden Hill, Sixth and Upas, Morley Field, and Marston Point. There's something for everyone, with trails offering easy 1.5-mile strolls on concrete walkways, 6.6-mile treks along dirt trails, and everything in between.

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