The 454-acre Del Dios Highlands County Preserve, recently unveiled just outside the North County community of Del Dios, now provides a direct connection between Del Dios Highway and the popular Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. Formerly, hikers and mountain-bikers had only one method of reaching Elfin Forest Reserve’s network of hilltop trails — the aptly named, but steep and narrow “Way Up Trail” originating along Harmony Grove Road. The new Del Dios Highlands route, although steep, offers plenty of room for travel with its generous width. That’s important for mountain-bikers, who may need maneuvering space while pedaling laboriously and crookedly uphill in one or another of their machine’s “granny gears.”
The new trail begins at 9860 Del Dios Highway (west side of Del Dios Highway), opposite Date Lane. Drive in a short distance to the Del Dios Preserve’s small parking lot, open from 8 a.m. till a half hour before sunset.
The wide dirt road ahead (closed to vehicles) curls up chaparral-clad slopes fully exposed to the morning sun, but partly shaded toward the end of the day. Waves of blue visited these hillsides last March when the ceanothus, or wild lilac, was in bloom. By now, however, the scrubby vegetation looks quite rough and drab.
A very steep section commences after around one mile of travel. Every step or pedal cycle upward, though, improves the view, which encompasses a hidden rural quarter of Escondido known as Harmony Grove, and stretches as far north as the distant San Bernardino Mountains.
As you curl around a summit at about 1.3 miles, you’ll get a wide view of the Olivenhain Reservoir, an oddly (but practically) situated element of the local water-delivery system positioned high above any natural gathering spot for water.
On just a little farther is a gate, beyond which lies the intricate trail system of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. You can obtain drinking water at the Ridgetop Picnic Area just ahead or set your sights on the Lake Hodges Overlook picnic site or head toward other destinations within the recreational reserve.
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.
Del Dios Highlands
Enter North County’s Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve via a novel approach from Del Dios.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 31 miles
Hiking/biking length: 3 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous