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Serene Lake Wohlford lies near the headwaters of Escondido Creek, its mirroring surface reflecting the shaggy-with-chaparral, boulder-studded hillsides that confine it. As early as 1895, water impounded for the benefit of Escondido’s farms and households began to collect behind a small dam here. The present, larger Wohlford Dam, completed in 1924, holds back a maximum 7100 acre-feet of water — not a lot, even by San Diego County standards. Much of the water entering Lake Wohlford today comes by way of the Escondido Canal, which originates at a point on the upper San Luis Rey River.

So long has the reservoir existed here that its presence has become an integral part of the scenery. Depending on the amount of recent rainfall and the flow of imported water, the lake either brims or wears a “bathtub ring” of bare ground in between the water surface and the scrubby hillsides.

To get to Lake Wohlford from Escondido, travel east on Valley Parkway. At Washington Avenue, Valley Parkway becomes Valley Center Road. Continue another 0.8 mile to Lake Wohlford Road and turn right. Drive 1.9 miles uphill to Oakvale Drive, again on the right. Drive 0.7 mile on Oakvale to a gated dirt road on the left, which leads to a parking area for public access to the south shore of Lake Wohlford.

Hikers (or rather casual walkers) can explore a short section of the lake’s south shoreline. A narrow trail, primarily used for fishing access, winds for about 0.5 mile amid dense growths of chaparral and coast live oak. Leafy curtains of poison oak drape the oak limbs, lending a Tolkienesque flair to the scene. It’s quiet here on weekdays, and a bit noisy on weekends with boat traffic on the lake and car traffic along the far shore. You can sit on benches or lie on a large rock slab by the shore, all the while watching the rippling lake surface or the activities of birds (I witnessed several hawks exploding into flight over the crown of an oak tree).

From the parking area itself, one segment of the shoreline path called the Oakvale Trail goes 0.2 mile west, while the other segment, the Egret Trail, winds north for about 0.3 mile.

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.

Lake Wohlford
Engage in a bit of bird watching at Lake Wohlford, outside Escondido.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 38 miles
Hiking Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy

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