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Formerly remote Lower Otay County Park, perched on a hillside above the dam of Lower Otay Reservoir, is now only a few minutes' drive from tens of thousands of new South Bay residents in communities such as Eastlake and Otay Ranch. With the imminent opening of the Route 125 toll road through eastern Chula Vista, the park will soon be more quickly accessible to visitors from other parts of San Diego County.

To get to the park from either Interstate 805 or the new Route 125 toll road, exit at Olympic Parkway and drive east until Olympic Parkway ends at Wueste Road. Turn right and continue south to the end of Wueste Road, where you'll find the entrance to Lower Otay County Park. There's a small day-use fee charged for entry. The October 2007 Harris Fire did not affect Lower Otay County Park; however, you may want to check with the county parks department (858-694-3049) to learn of any possible changes in the park's operating schedule.

A recent renovation of the county park grounds has turned it into quite a scenic spot for picnicking, with a view south into Mexico. That view can be greatly improved if you care to climb eastward and 300 vertical feet higher to a more panoramic vantage point.

From the topmost parking lot inside the park, walk past a gate and go uphill on a service road, or else use a zigzagging foot trail that gets you to the same destination: a bench on a knoll overlooking the reservoir. Don't stop there; simply continue on the eroded road or firebreak that keeps going straight up the slope.

You'll end up on a rounded summit high enough for you to see the Pacific Ocean, the terrestrial ocean of rooftops covering eastern Chula Vista, and -- when clear enough -- the upper floors of downtown San Diego's skyscrapers. The most impressive vista, however, is north toward Lower Otay Reservoir, which spreads its waters far and wide, seemingly at your feet. To the east, the long ridge of Otay Mountain climbs steadily toward the mountain range's 3572-foot high point. This upward pitch, however, is interrupted by the Otay River gorge immediately below you, so the rounded summit you are standing on is as far as you can get on an easy hike. The Harris-Fire-blackened swath of landscape you will see in the distance, beyond the lake, promises to turn emerald green if and when soaking rains arrive this winter.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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