Canyon Cruise

It may not be the Grand Canyon, but Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (i.e., “Little Cliffs”) in northern San…

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It may not be the Grand Canyon, but Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (i.e., “Little Cliffs”) in northern San Diego has plenty of gorge-ous attractions in spring. This 4,000-acre suburban wilderness—thankfully saved from development—surrounds a creek that plays hide-and-seek between high banks and big California live oaks. The best way to see its charms is on a moderate 7-mile (round-trip) mountain bike ride along a nameless yet well-mapped route. From the preserve’s western entrance, follow the mostly hard-packed dirt path for about 2.4 miles past trees, grassy expanses and singletrack offshoots. The stream is almost always within earshot, beckoning more as you begin a short rise on a slightly rutted trail. At the top, you can dismount for a quick walk down to the cascading creek that tumbles through volcanic boulders. Back on your bike, pedal onward for a mile to the trail’s halfway point at the marshy Carson’s Crossing where you may be inspired to lose your shoes and enjoy a tree frog serenade—or perhaps a mallard duck parade. Continue over the bridge and relish the remainder of the ride, pedaling through gnarled sycamore groves and breezy, rolling hills. Canyon dig it?

BURRITO BONUS: Post-ride, pair a shrimp burrito with a tall glass of horchata on the shady patio at Caliente Mexican Food, about two miles west of the preserve (11815 Sorrento Valley Road at the corner of Carmel Mountain).

The preserve is about 2 hours south of Los Angeles and 17 miles north of downtown San Diego. From the north, exit I-5 local bypass at Carmel Mountain Rd. and turn right. Turn left on Sorrento Valley Rd. and go 1.5 miles to Sorrento Valley Blvd. and turn left. Continue for 1 mile until turnoff for trailhead appears on the right. From San Diego heading north on I-805, exit Mira Mesa Blvd. east. Turn left on Vista Sorrento, then right on Sorrento Valley. Immediately following the trailhead, follow signs to the left. At Wagon Wheel Crossing, keep right. At Sycamore Crossing, stay straight and ascend the hill; at the top is a short walking trail down to a creek. Resume the main trail and turn left at sign for Carson’s Crossing. After crossing the stream via two bridges, go left at the following junction to begin circling back to the trailhead. About three quarters of a mile after Carson’s Crossing, where the main trail continues to the right at a fork, watch for a very short, down-sloping gravelly section—you may consider walking your bike over it. Continue past signs for Sycamore Canyon and turn left at Wagon Wheel Crossing. Bear left at the next fork to the parking lot. The parking lot is closed from sunset to 8 a.m. Dog-friendly!

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