Though the name is very Lord of the Rings, you won’t find Legolas in Escondido’s Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. However, you may see the resident “white witch,” a ghostly spirit spending eternity looking for her murdered husband and son amongst the chaparral. Keep your eyes peeled on this 3.5-mile (round-trip) haunted hike. Begin at the Way Up trailhead at the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center (grab a map!). Crossing Escondido Creek, you’ll ascend through a cluster of live oaks gaining nearly 900 feet and conquering switchbacks amidst chaparral and views of the Harmony Grove and Questhaven spiritual communities (also rumored to be phantom-friendly).
Keep right at the junction with the Botanical Trail and continue up, passing quail-themed markers (and perhaps an actual covey of quails) as well as a shaded vista bench. After a mile, the trail evens out. Half a mile later, after passing multiple marked spur trails, you’ll reach a major trail junction with a myriad of directionally-informative signs (and potential adventures). Witch way should you go? Straight ahead is the beautiful and popular Ridgetop picnic area overlooking the Olivenhain Reservoir and 318-foot high dam. For even better views and a good spot to eat your sandwitch, make a left up the hill and under powerlines for 0.2 mile to Escondido overlook (crossing into the Del Dios Highlands Preserve). This less-traveled rest spot offers perhaps a greater chance for an eerie encounter. Start heading back the way you came, but then take the Botanical Trail through a dense, heavily shaded riparian woodland to boulder-hop across a surprisingly active segment of Escondido Creek and return to your car.
To get to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Interpretive Center and parking lot, take the I-15 and exit Auto Parkway, heading west. Go left at 9th St., which turns into Hale Ave. after 0.5 mile. Shortly after, turn right onto Harmony Grove Rd. and take it for 3.5 miles. Elfin Forest will be on your left. Dog-friendly!