Hidden spots may seem harder to come by these days, but San Diego’s Pauma Valley has a few less-known gems, including a small oasis tucked within Wilderness Gardens County Preserve. Find it along 3.2 miles of tranquil trail where water, native history, and natural diversity come together—along with fabulous far-reaching views of the valley.
Start at the Main Trail and head west, crossing the riverbed amid chaparral and coastal sage scrub. Look for Luiseño grinding rocks on your left. After about half a mile, head left for the ranger station, where you will find an interpretive museum and a 19th-century grist mill. A shady oak woodland environment surrounds you as you continue on Pond Trail.
At the first opening in the trees, listen for bullfrogs and watch for waterfowl. At the end of the Pond Trail, do a quick 0.7-mile loop on Camelia Trail. Then continue back east to hop on the 1-mile Frank Special Memorial Trail, which passes prickly pear cactus blooms and gives you far-reaching views of the Pauma Valley. Want to see more river? Add on the Alice Fries Trail (a 0.4-mile loop) for a perspective on the San Luis Rey from the bluffs.
Take I-15 to CA-76 east for 9.6 miles and turn right into the signed driveway. $3 to park. Open Thursday through Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed in August. Dog-friendly!