Some developments mean expanding suburbs and urban sprawl, but not the one happening at San Dieguito River Park
. Here the Coast-to-Crest Trail system is underway, with plans to connect 55 miles of corridor from the top of Volcan Mountain to the ocean in Del Mar. Most people gravitate toward San Dieguito’s lakeside North Shore Lake Hodges Trail, but to duck the crowds and hike an offshoot of the Coast-to-Crest Trail system, head for the 4-mile (round-trip) Highland Valley Trail outside Rancho Bernardo. It gets substantially less foot traffic and its singletrack trail makes it more of a hike than a walk. While sporadic oak tree shade makes Highland Trail cooler than most, it’s still smart to go in the morning for a more temperate trek. Starting from the trailhead, the mostly flat path begins with views of the northern section of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain, passing through a sunbathed field of California buckwheat before dipping down to a stream crossing that’s shaded by oak and willow trees. Once across the wooden bridge, listen for the beehive that dangles from a branch 20 feet off the ground. Farther along, black sage, laurel sumac, and wild squash plants crop up beside the trail while golden, grass-covered hills spotted with boulders the size of cars and darting Cooper’s hawks keep the scenery lively. A lone picnic table set in the shade of an old oak tree marks the halfway point. Take a snack break here before heading back the way you came.
From I-15, exit Pomerado Rd./West Rancho Bernardo Rd. and turn east onto Pomerado Rd. Turn left onto Highland Valley Rd., then an immediate right into the dirt parking lot. Parking is free. Pick up a map at the trailhead. Dog-friendly!