2016 New Year’s To-Do: Hike to a new point of view, and find a hidden labyrinth too! Tucked in the urban sprawl of Carlsbad is Lake Calavera Preserve, with trails criss-crossing the terrain, including a 4-mile loop leading to a panoramic vista, rock formations, and an oasis. The preserve is directly adjacent to Oak Riparian Park, where a parking lot and trailhead is your starting point. From the trailhead, take the path leading to the right for a wander along a newly built boardwalk passing through rare marsh habitat dotted in live oaks. Pass a dense grove of Mexican fan palms before arriving at a junction of three trails surrounded by coastal chaparral. Choose the middle path and follow signage leading you up to the summit of Mount Calavera, a volcanic plug that was active 15 million years ago. The uphill is about half a mile but you gain 500 feet of elevation, so it’s a thigh burner for some. Rock formations and a labyrinth add to the mystical feeling, and so does the vista! After soaking in the inland views of the San Bernardino, Palomar, Cuyamaca, and Santa Ana mountain ranges behind North County San Diego, face the ocean and take the rightmost path for an adventurous descent down a narrow, precipitous ridge. If heights aren’t for you (or if recent rains have made terrain slick) opt for the adjacent path gradually leading to Lake Calavera, a manmade creation that’s home to a variety of ducks, with picnic tables too. Follow the trail along the dam back to the three-trail junction (take the middle trail again) to complete the loop.
From I-15 or I-5, take CA-78 to the Emerald Dr. exit. After half a mile, take a right to continue on Emerald Dr., followed by a left onto Lake Blvd. Oak Riparian Park will be on the right with a free lot, and street parking is plentiful as well. On the return trip, the middle trail leads back to the single trail and boardwalk, which takes you back to the parking lot. Bike-friendly! Dog-friendly!