What Are the Best Hiking Trails in San Diego?

Five popular San Diego hiking trails for all fitness levels

Family Hiking

Five popular San Diego hiking trails for all fitness levels

The San Diego region is known for its sunny weather and diverse array of landscapes and natural features that are easy to explore. Hiking is one way to enjoy some of the most gorgeous spots in the region.

San Diego County is home to dozens of scenic trails that you can appreciate with your family, friends or significant other while reaping the health benefits of exercising outdoors.

“In addition to the fresh air, the gorgeous views and the meditative experience of being in nature, hiking is a great exercise and a great way to stay fit,” says David Hawkins, DO, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Santee.

“It can strengthen your body, boost your mood, help control your weight, and even improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels,” Dr. Hawkins adds.

5 popular San Diego hiking trails

If you’re new to hiking, start off with easy trails that are flat and well-maintained. As you increase your strength and endurance, try more advanced hiking trails that will challenge you more.

If you plan to stay active during your vacation in San Diego – or if you live here and are doing a staycation – consider hiking in one of these well-known trails:

1. Balboa Park

Explore a landmark where culture and nature meet and get your steps in by doing a little hiking.

On the southside of the park, on Park Boulevard, near President’s way, is the Park Blvd. Trails Gateway, the entrance to four trails, ranging from 1.2 to 6 miles.

The easiest trail is a 3-mile hike that explores the historic 1915 Panama California Exposition section of the park. The route takes you along the park’s best-known places.

2. Lake Poway Park

Lake Poway Park trails are popular, including one of the most sought places for photo ops and scenic views: Potato Chip Rock via Mount Woodson Trail.


The Mount Woodson Trail starts at the end of Lake Poway Road and leads hikers along a challenging trail up to the famous potato chip boulder and Mount Woodson Summit. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen as this is a very exposed trail.

Lake Poway Park features other trails that are easier to hike, including the 2.5-mile Loop Trail.

Parking is free during the week, but there is a $10 entry fee for all non-Poway residents on weekends and holidays.

3. Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is a national park located in San Diego’s Point Loma that features many short trails with spectacular views.

The 2-mile Bayside Trail that begins near the Old Point Loma Lighthouse offers scenic views of San Diego Bay and beyond. The natural environment along the trail is much the same as when the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo came ashore here in 1542.

Admission is not free. The Visitor Center will help you get oriented to the park.

4. Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails in central San Diego is one of the largest urban parks in the United States with 60 miles of hiking trails for all fitness levels. With its rugged hills, valleys and open areas, it offers a window to a San Diego prior to Cabrillo’s landing.

Cowles Mountain is one of five main peaks within Mission Trails Regional Park and features some of the best views of the city.

5. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines hiking trails features breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Located on the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach, the preserve features miles of trails, including:

  • The Guy Fleming Trail, an easy, under 1-mile loop that offers panoramic views as well as a close up look at Torrey pine trees.
  • The Beach Trail is a 3/4-mile trail that leads to Flat Rock and descends about 300 feet to Torrey Pines State Beach.
  • The Broken Hill Trail is the longest trail at a little more than one mile and also includes access to the beach.

How do you prepare for a hike?

To make your hikes fun and safe, consider the following tips:

Partner up

Find a hiking partner you enjoy spending time with and who is in similar shape as you to help determine trail level and pace.

Scout it out

Choose trails that appeal to you to keep it interesting, but also consider accessibility and difficulty. The San Diego County Parks and Recreation is a good source of information for hike trails across the region.

Pack well

A good hiking backpack should have room for all yours essentials, including plenty of water, snacks, a first-aid kit, headlamp or flashlight, extra layers of clothing in case the weather changes and sunscreen to protect your skin.

Make sure your phone is fully charged. Your smartphone is also a great resource for hiking apps that track your mileage and elevation.

Hydrate before hike

Before you start your hike, drink plenty of water. Bring enough water to drink during and after your hike. The best defense against dehydration is prevention.

To keep your energy flowing, pack trail mix, granola bars and other healthy snacks.

Pace yourself

Be careful not to burn yourself out too soon and risk injury. Pace yourself and take adequate rest breaks.

Consider joining a hiking club or group that matches you with people who are on the same fitness level so everyone can keep up with one another.

If you are giving trail running a try, break up runs by walking every few minutes.

Related tags: