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Serene Dos Picos County Park, outside Ramona, nestles into East County's sweet-smelling chaparral hillsides like a dewdrop caught in the hollow of a leaf. On a recent weekday visit there, I spotted only a few quiet campers, a couple of Tom Sawyeresque boys making their barefoot acquaintance with the squishy mud on the bottom of the park's shallow pond, and a gaggle of kids in the youth group area.

Dos Picos Park packs a lot into its smallish 78-acre site. Here you'll find perhaps the most impressive spread of picnic tables in all the county, each one perfectly shaded by closely spaced live oaks that are believed to be as much as three centuries old. The nearby pond has ducks and geese cruising for handouts and enjoys occasional visitation by Western grebes and great blue herons. In the oak groves, the gentle tapping of Nuttall's woodpeckers can be heard.

On foot, you can circumnavigate the park by going west through the camping area to the start of the park's half-mile-long nature trail. Follow this delightful path, which darts up a ravine and contours across a chaparral-clothed slope, to where it emerges in the youth group area. In this year of late winter/spring rain, you should still find some trailside wildflowers through perhaps early July, notably abundant displays of yellow monkeyflower and yarrow.

Summer hours for the park are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There's a day-use parking fee of $2. Arrive in the cool of the late afternoon on the weekend days to take advantage of the late sunsets; otherwise just pack a picnic and plan to vegetate amid the spreading oaks.

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