Hikers flock to Mt. Woodson to take their picture atop the famed Potato Chip Rock, which juts out like a thin chip about to break. But getting to the rock requires hard work—and a little bit of sweat. The four-mile trail starts at Lake Poway, and climbs nearly 2,000 feet in elevation before arriving at the rock. As the trail isn’t a loop, hikers must return along the same path.
Located in the middle of the Los Coyotes Indian reservation, the trail to the top of Hot Springs Mountain was previously closed to visitors. Though a difficult nine-mile hike round-trip, the views from the top more than compensate—at an elevation of 6,535 feet it’s the highest peak in San Diego. On a clear day, hikers can see the Pacific Ocean to the west and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Salton Sea to the east.
Home to six different trails, Torrey Pines offers panoramic views of the ocean from its cliffside hikes. The paths vary in length from the 100-yard High Point Trail to the 1.25-mile Broken Hill Trail, a portion of which includes access down to the beach. With a focus on the scenery, the trails are relatively easy, and it can get crowded. On weekends, the visitors’ center provides free, guided nature walks in the reserve. If you’re lucky you can snag a free parking spot along the beach. Otherwise be prepared to pay a fee to park in the reserve’s official lot.
The Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve encompasses 4,000 acres and has numerous trails that stretch along its stream. The preserve is lush with oak and sycamore trees and hikers can sometimes spot deer, coyotes, and bobcats. There is also a waterfall, and the trails loop all around so visitors can make their trek as long or as short as they like.
Although it stretches just over three miles, the hike along Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad is mostly flat. While the walk isn’t particularly difficult, the tidal wetland is abundant with plants and wildlife. A renowned birding hotspot, over 185 different species of birds have been spotted at the lagoon. The Nature Center provides trail guides with information on where to observe certain birds, fish, and plants.