Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hiking Near Santee Lakes

San Diego sure is a nice place to be when the rest of the country is suffering from a frigid arctic blast! Our mornings may be in the 30's here at Santee Lakes Recreational Preserve, but the days are edging back up into the 70's. Perfect weather for hiking the inland San Diego trails.

Most trails in San Diego county consist of chaparral covered rolling hills, with scattered oak and sycamore canyon bottoms. The area only gets about 11 inches of rain per year, even along the coast, so you aren't likely to encounter lush greenery unless you are in a riparian zone or after a wet spring.

Santee Lakes is nestled in a small valley that backs up to a combination of military land and the Goodan Ranch Sycamore Canyon Preserve (GR/SC Preserve). If you want to hike into the open land behind Santee Lakes (without driving) you can access it from two points. 1) There is a locked gate at the North West corner of the RV park, behind the last RV storage area, with a hole cut out for you to climb through. 2) Exit the park and go to the intersection of Strathmore and Birchcrest in the neighborhood North East of the RV park. There is trail access at the end of Birchcrest Blvd.

Once you enter the open land you'll see lots of trails...but you may also encounter signs warning you not to continue! These trails have been used continuously by locals for decades and we understand that if you stay on obvious trails heading North along and beyond the Santee Lakes - Padre Dam water ponds, you will not be bothered by anyone...we have never had any issues ourselves. If you continue a few miles beyond the ponds you will enter the GR/SC Preserve.

These trails are used heavily by mountain bikers, especially on the weekends. You could easily hike or bike for at least a dozen miles; we did a couple of 7 - 8 milers from the RV park. It is easy to do many miles on relatively flat terrain if you stay in the pretty canyon bottom, or add on some hills if you want to take in some views.

Typical terrain in the hills North of Santee Lakes.

There are lots of coyotes in these hills. We saw two on one hike!

This area has been military land for many decades, perhaps this is a remnant from the Elliot Field days.

I have spent many years and many miles on San Diego County trails and have never seen deer in the city until now.
We've noticed some deer tracks on recent hikes, but on this day we saw two deer!

We've also hiked a couple of 7 - 8 mile hikes over in Mission Trails Regional Park. This time we pushed beyond the trails on the map linked above. We parked at the Equestrian Staging Area at the West end of Mast Blvd., just a couple of miles from our RV park. If you take the Spring Canyon Trail you'll come to highway 52 and the trail continues under the freeway, no longer in the Park. The area North of highway 52 is less crowded and a loop can be made where you return crossing under the highway further West and onto Oak Canyon Trail.

Crossing under highway 52.
The canyon North of highway 52.

Hans, Martin, Chelsea and Estella make their way through chaparral covered hills North of highway 52.

There are surprises to be found in Oak Canyon.

 On yet another day we hiked about 6 miles in Mission Trails Regional Park from the trail head at the East end of Clairemont Mesa Blvd. This time we did a loop that included North Fortuna Summit with plenty of steep ups and downs.

North Fortuna may not look like much of a mountain,
but the trail is steep and rocky and the views are 360* at the top.

Atop North Fortuna, South Fortuna is behind Hans, Cowles Mountain is the pointy peak behind his head,
and the mountains at the far left are Cuyamaca and the Laguna's which are at the far East of San Diego County.

Heading down the steep and slippery decomposed granite trail, we can see the trail we'll take
to cross the valley then up the hill on the far right to get back to the trail head.

North and South Fortuna.

A close up of the road leading to the saddle in the above photo shows a fire and rescue vehicle
slowly making its way up the very steep road.
On several of our recent hikes we saw these vehicles on the back roads...
probably making sure they are well acquainted with the terrain in the event of a fire.

One of our top criteria for a RV park where we spend a month is that there are trails right from the park. The trails in the hills around Santee Lakes, and within a few miles, may not be the prettiest we've ever seen (we're spoiled from our travels!) but they provide an excellent workout, fantastic views of San Diego County and some solitude (especially on the week days) if you can find the lesser used trails.


  1. We have yet to spend time near San Diego, but it seems Santee Lakes would be the place to stay. The trails look nice. Are the mountain bike trails very technical?

    1. The trails immediately North of the park would be good for riding. Some sections can be rather rocky...but low rocks, not big hike-a-bike rocks. Mission Trails has a few miles of easy bike riding, but most of it is very hilly, steep hills.

      The only drawback to Santee Lakes is poor Verizon signal. But now that they have upgraded their Tengo internet it's not such an issue. We stand outside to make phone calls, or put the phone in the booster.

  2. Thanks for the tour. Last year my son and I visited San Diego and I'd like to get the hubby over there. As a former Navy pilot, I think he would love the new memorials and Carrier museum at the Embarcardara Park.'ll love the hiking at Lost Dutchman SP

  3. I like the bird watching at Santee Lakes. Also, the farmers market on Wed afternoon is just down the street from the campground.

  4. I love the fact that you have trails to hike on!! FL is definitely lacking in this area for sure. With temps being in the 80's and a dew point in the low 70's all we've done is sweat since our return. Your weather is my ideal. Thanks for taking me along on your hikes:) Be careful out there!

  5. It's nice that you have trails to hike, not much of that here in southern FL. Your weather sounds so wonderful!!! No dew points in the 70's for you! Have a great time:) I love the wildlife but be careful out there with the coyotes!

  6. What do the warning signs (not to continue) warn you of? Are there cougars in that area?


    1. Oh, sorry! It's military land that was used for bomb testing and training around the time of WWII.