Silverwood. The name comes from the glittering effect of sunlight upon the dark-green leaves of the coast live oak. Scores of these trees, some of them two-century-old giants scarred by wildfire, shade the canyon floor at the entrance to the Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary. Owned and managed by the San Diego Audubon Society, the sanctuary preserves 700 acres of flora and fauna indigenous to the foothill region.
Silverwood is open to the public every Sunday (except in August and September, when it is too hot and dry) between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. You’ll find the entrance on the east side of Wildcat Canyon Road at mile 4.8. (Mile markers on Wildcat Canyon Road begin from 0.0 at Mapleview and Ashwood streets in Lakeside. Ashwood becomes Wildcat Canyon Road north of Lakeside.) The map accompanying this article shows Silverwood in relation to the nearby area, which includes several county parks and open-space preserves that may be worth checking out before or after your Silverwood visit.
The 2003 Cedar Fire roared through Silverwood, incinerating all vegetation and all human-made structures on the property. Now, nearly seven years later, many of the coast live oaks have fully recovered, and the chaparral vegetation has returned in force. On a recent visit, ceanothus (wild lilac) shrubs were bursting with lavender-colored blossoms, and bush poppy plants were festooned with hundreds of bright yellow flowers.
The Cedar Fire and subsequent heavy rains took a heavy toll on the intricate trail system that once existed here. Since then, Audubon Society staff and volunteers have been busy renewing the trails, especially in the northern part of the property. When you arrive at the entrance, sign in as a guest, and then stop by the pint-size Frank Gander Nature Education Center nearby. Obtain a copy of the latest trail map, which is periodically updated to reflect newly opened stretches of trail.
For hiking purposes, start walking on the near-level Wright McConnell Trail. Arrive maybe ten minutes later at the manager’s residence, which is surrounded by an observation/interpretive area and a picnic ground with drinking fountain. Just beyond the residence is a small cienaga, or soggy meadow, adorned with spring wildflowers. If you’re up for a two-mile ramble along the rocky ridgeline above, find and follow the Spring and Big Oak trails, which take you sharply uphill to the ridge-running, view-rich Circuit Trail. Use the Circuit Trail to circle broadly north and return to the entrance parking lot. On the Circuit Trail you can spot, off to the east, a rounded granitic dome called “Silverdome” about 500 feet high, half-covered with lichens, mosses, and shrubs. Some geologists believe this to be the largest granite monolith in San Diego County. On the Circuit Trail itself, you cross the so-called “Big Rock Slab,” which has the same texture and vegetation as Silverdome.
This article contains information about a privately owned 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.
Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary
Explore Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary’s new trails in the rocky hills above Lakeside.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 25 miles
Hiking length: Looping trails of up to 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderately strenuous