10 Best Hikes in San Diego to Explore This Year

The best hiking trails in San Diego for beginners, experts, and everyone in between, from Torrey Pines to La Jolla and beyond.

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

Hiking, like yoga, is actually proven to reduce stress levels. Research conducted at Chiba University in Japan revealed that a 15-minute walk in the woods reduces cortisol (a stress hormone) by 16 percent and blood pressure by two percent.

Whether you're hoping to unwind in the woods or stay active on vacation, seeking great hikes can continually motivate you to get outside. 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 a wealth of terrain, and these San Diego hiking trails prove 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 some of the best hiking trails in San Diego.

01 of 10

Mount Woodson Summit

Potato Chip Rock, Mount Woodson near San Diego, California
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Famed home of Potato Chip Rock, the Mount Woodson Summit hiking trail is an ideal adventure-gram moment. Because Potato Chip Rock extends out over nothingness, it's become a classic Southern California photo op. The Mount Woodson hike is a challenging 7.4 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 Punchbowl

Cedar Creek Falls
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The name alone sells it. For this hike, you'll take the Cedar Creek Falls Trail to Devil's Punchbowl, a pool at the base of Cedar Creek Falls. It can 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 Natural Reserve

Rocky coastline of Torrey Pines

Lauren Breedlove/Travel + Leisure

Torrey Pines is the quintessential La Jolla hike where 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. Those who want to explore further can check out the rest of the trails at the park, and turn a short hike into an extended trek.

04 of 10

Cuyamaca Peak

Cuyamaca Peak and El Cajon View From Mt. Helix Park
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This peak is located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which has some elevation, so you'll see plenty of snow-capped trees if you tackle this hike in the winter. There are plenty of trails in the state park, but you'll want to stick to the Azalea Glen Loop, a challenging nearly eight-mile trek 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, at at 1,593 feet, and 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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The perfect Southern California hike involves some quality time on the Coast to Crest Trail, followed by a stop at Stone Brewing. Located in Escondido, the Coast to Crest Trail, when completed, will span over 70 miles from Del Mar to Volcan Mountain. The out-and-back route to Lake Hodges is 6.5 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
Scott C. Wilson/Getty Images

Feeling inspired by Cheryl Strayed and Reese Witherspoon? 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

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail

Los Penasquitos Canyon San Diego
Lukas Bischoff / Getty Images

Just a 30-minute ride from downtown San Diego, this scenic 6.8-mile loop through the 4,000-acre preserve covers the canyon and boasts a striking waterfall. History buffs should stop by the historic Rancho Santa Maria de Los Peñasquitos, 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.

09 of 10

Balboa Park Trails

Balboa Park Trails in San
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You don't 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 with varying degrees of difficulty, 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, from easy, 1.5-mile strolls on concrete walkways, to 6.6-mile treks along dirt trails, and everything in between.

10 of 10

Annie’s Canyon

Two people hiking through Annie's Canyons

Nature Collective

Hiking Annie’s Canyon by Solana Beach feels a bit like trekking in a desert slot canyon — but it's right near the coast, making for beautiful scenery the entire way. This hidden gem of a hike is short, but it can be a bit challenging for those with mobility issues due to the rougher terrain.

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