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Stelzer County Park features 314 acres' worth of trails, campsites, picnic tables, and a small "Nature Studies Interpretive Center" set alongside Wildcat Canyon Road northeast of Lakeside. The park's core area was designed to accommodate persons with disabilities, though all visitors and hikers are welcome. In recent years, narrow, steep Wildcat Canyon Road has become almost congested with a steady stream of fast traffic heading toward the Barona Casino. If you're heading to Stelzer Park from Lakeside, be prepared to make a right turn at the park entrance after traveling Wildcat Canyon Road two miles uphill from Mapleview Street in Lakeside.

Two trail routes of different character are of interest to hikers in the outlying parts of the park. The Riparian Trail parallels the stream bottom of Wildcat Canyon for 0.7 mile and ends at a secluded picnic site. It's mostly shaded by a stream-hugging canopy of live oaks, some draped with filigrees of wild-grape and poison-oak vines.

The Stelzer Ridge Trail, on the other hand, zigzags 0.6 mile toward the ridgeline south and east of Wildcat Canyon. Once on top, there are two choices for those who wish a better view: you can go 0.3 mile to the right on a powerline access road to reach "Kumeyaay Promontory," or go 0.5 mile to the left on the same road, up a very steep pitch, toward "Stelzer Summit." At Stelzer Summit, you can turn right (south), climb toward the rock pile atop the nearby hill, and discover a hidden boulder-cave with an opening that overlooks a rural stretch of the San Diego River Valley. When the sea breeze blows up the valley, this becomes surely the coolest spot within the park. Off in the distance, down the valley toward the west, sprawl the suburbs of Lakeside and Santee.

Stelzer Park's day-use hours are Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends 9:30 a.m. to dusk. Phone: 619-561-0580. Go soon to enjoy the best wildflower season the park has seen in years.

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