“Tecolote” is the Spanish word for owl, perhaps suggesting that you would be wise to visit Tecolote Canyon, a secluded nature preserve near Mission Bay. The best way to enjoy it is via a 3.25-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike—truly a hidden hoot!
Park at the Nature Center and drop in to visit. It features beautifully informative interpretive exhibits and a warm-hearted, knowledgeable staff. You might even meet M. Eloise Battle, the local hero responsible for the preservation of the park. Then start your hike by turning right off the main path to the small trail behind the center. This worthwhile little detour winds around a native-plant garden, full of signage for the flora and re-created huts of the native Kumeyaay people.
Now head down the main path until reaching the intersection with the Battle Trail on your right. Named for Eloise, the canyon’s champion, this trail passes by a soil revegetation project and under the shade of live oaks along the canyon wall. After reconnecting with the main trail, continue on, but don’t forget to look back and admire the views of the University of San Diego buildings that line the ridge. The path is mostly flat as you pass by various trail connectors branching out to local street entrances to the park. You’ll be walking beneath giant eucalyptus that coexist with such native trees as sycamore, cottonwood, and willow.
At the 1.5-mile mark, a steep incline takes you about 200 feet above the canyon floor. At this point, the hill’s summit (as well as your heart rate) is the highest in the park, offering great views of the secluded, narrow canyon. Before you head back toward the nature center, look out for patrolling raptors, most often red-tailed or red-shouldered hawks, scouting lunch on the open canyon floor. (By the way, the aptly named canyon is indeed home to three species of owl.) As you follow the path owl the way back to the parking lot, be grateful for Ms. Battle and her fellow ecological sorcerers who saved this natural playground for all of San Diego to enjoy.
Take the I-5 to Exit 21, Tecolote Rd., and head east. After 0.6 mile, a sign and paved driveway direct you to the Tecolote Canyon Nature Center entrance and parking lot. Dog-friendly!