The “ponds tour,” suitable for hikers, runners, and mountain bikers, serves as a fine introduction to the City of Escondido’s Daley Ranch — a sprawling, 3000-acre open-space preserve in the hills north of town. The pint-sized bodies of water are actually old stock ponds left over from the ranch’s dairy and cattle-grazing days. Get an early-morning start on this serene trek, so as to take advantage of the best bird watching and the cool comfort of the morning air.
To get to Daley Ranch, exit Interstate 15 at El Norte Parkway in north Escondido. Drive three miles east and make a left turn (north) on La Honda Drive. Drive one mile uphill to the end of the road, where you will find the large parking lot/staging area for Daley Ranch on the left, just short of the Dixon Lake entrance.
Step around the Daley Ranch gate north of the parking lot and travel uphill, rather steeply, on the paved access road (closed to car traffic) called Ranch House Trail. After 0.4 mile the road starts descending into live-oak woods and you get a glimpse of the largest of the several ponds on the old ranch property. This one’s shoreline is guarded by tall cattails. As time goes on, all of the ponds are silting up and being invaded by dense riparian vegetation and trees.
After 1.2 miles, pavement on Ranch House Trail ends and the quaint redwood Daley ranch house lies to the left. Descendants of Robert Daley, who settled in this valley in 1869, erected the house in 1928. The pioneering Daley family controlled large tracts of land around rural San Diego County and was prominent in the construction industry.
Continue north another 200 yards past various outbuildings to the beginning of the dirt-road route signed “Jack Creek Meadow.” Take the road to the right, continue 200 yards, and then turn right on the steeply ascending Sage Trail. After 0.4 mile you reach a secluded upper pond. Venture out along the dam (west edge of the pond) and look down on the valley of Jack Creek, dimpled with the two other ponds you’ll visit on your return route.
From the upper pond, return to the ranch house, but from there, take the East Ridge Trail southeast, between the two ponds. Be still, and your ears may catch the comical, deep-throated groans of a bullfrog, the buzz of a hummingbird’s wings, or the warbling song of a redwing blackbird.
Ahead, continue southeast on the East Ridge Trail up a steep grade, and then turn right (west) on the Creek Crossing Trail to get back to the Daley Ranch entrance, which is where you started.
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.
Tour of the Ponds at Daley Ranch
Hike or bike to hidden ponds in the hills above Escondido.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 36 miles
Hiking/biking length: 3.5 miles