Before indulging in Fallbrook’s avocado specialties and local wines, head out for a challenging (okay, thigh-burning!) hike on terrain that towers over the landscape. Fallbrook Conservancy’s Monserate Mountain Preserve is 340 acres of chaparral environment with a sweat-inducing trail to the 1,500-foot summit. The path immediately starts ascending at a grueling angle and continues like this for over 1.5 miles. After a gut-busting 1,200 feet of elevation gain, you’ll reach the only unmarked trail junction: The summit is a short uphill to the left (the path to the right provides you with an additional 1-mile loop passing a water tower and returning to the summit). At the peak be sure to sign the guestbook and then relish epic views of North County San Diego: To the east lie the Agua Tibia Mountains, and on clear days you can see the Pacific Ocean to the west. The north provides excellent views of the Santa Ana Mountains, while the south lookout watches over the San Luis Rey Valley. Monserate magnificence!
To get to the trailhead at Monserate Mountain Preserve, take I-15 to CA-76 east and make a left on Horse Ranch Creek Rd. After 2 miles, the dirt parking lot will be on your left. The trailhead is clearly marked. Dog-friendly!