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Aside from North County's beaches, not many public spaces for anything resembling true "hiking" can be found in Oceanside or in neighboring Vista and Carlsbad. One significant exception is Gaujome Regional Park, an oasis of open space in east Oceanside. Cookie-cutter suburban homes adjoin the park on the west, while a more gracious and spacious semi-rural aspect of North County's urban geography blankets the rolling hills to the east of the park.

Guajome Park has a nice mix of wild and civilized features. There's cattail-fringed Guajome Lake for fishing, two picnic grounds, a refurbished campground, and a grassy knoll that serves as a wedding space. Guajome's 4-mile trail system encircles Guajome Lake and visits a small pond hidden in a secluded back corner of the park. The park's topography is gentle, making almost all of its trails ideal for jogging as well as walking. Horseback riding is allowed in the park's east half, east of the service road.

The westernmost trail in the park skirts a freshwater marsh that oozes moisture, even during the driest months of the year. Flanked by willows and cottonwoods and overgrown with cattails and volunteer palms, that marshy area exudes a complex mixture of damp odors that you can't often experience around most parts of arid San Diego County.

The Highway 76 expressway going east from Interstate 5 makes it easy to reach Guajome Park from the coast. Exit I-5 at Highway 76 and drive east 6 miles to Guajome Lake Road, past the traffic light at North Santa Fe Drive. You'll pay a day-use parking fee at the main entrance on Guajome Lake Road for the privilege of parking inside. The park's summer hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wise visitors intent on exercise tend avoid the midday summer heat -- though on many days a cooling coastal breeze sweeps up the San Luis Rey valley and provides natural air conditioning throughout the park.

For more information about Guajome Park, call the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department, 858-694-3049.

GUAJOME REGIONAL PARK

Perfect for a lazy spring or summer afternoon, Oceanside's Guajome Regional Park offers hiking, jogging, fishing, picnicking, and camping.

Distance from downtown San Diego: 47 miles

Hiking length: Round-trip loop hikes of 2 - 3 miles

Hiking difficulty: Easy

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