For a bit of morning exercise, especially if you’re a local San Diegan, consider this quick jaunt at the San Diego Zoo — a place not normally thought of as a hiking destination. Get there at opening time (9 a.m. every day of the year) and you’ll likely be the only person treading certain portions of the 1.3-mile looping route described here. On a typical day, 9:30 or 10 a.m. is too late. There will be too many gawking individuals and baby strollers to contend with on the narrow paths.
The route purposefully stays out of the sun, ducking under cover of exotic trees and jungle-like vegetation as much as possible, so it’s perfect when the summer weather warms up. Oh, yes, we should mention the fact that you might be tempted to linger at one exhibit or another, since 9 a.m. happens to be a perfect time to see the zoo’s animals up close — not hidden in the back of their enclosures. If exercise is your primary goal, then consider using the same route for two loops, or even three. The zoological scenery changes constantly.
Visitors who purchase a membership to the San Diego Zoological Society receive 365 days of free admission to both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. With a membership, you simply glide through the entrance gate with membership card and picture ID.
Once inside the zoo, pick up a color map (at the map rack to the right), which features far more detail than this page’s sketch map includes. Note that the zoo’s color map is oriented west-up, not the standard north-up.
Staying right, follow the sidewalk along Front Street. At about 0.2 mile, you pass the koala exhibit on the right. Beyond the intersection of Front Street and Center Street, you arrive at the turnoff for the Urban Jungle section of the zoo. Cross Front Street there and pick up the signed Kiwi Trail, a narrow hardscape path that soon darts downward along a shady hillside. Just shy of Park Way, you make a hard left to stay on the narrow path, which is now called Big Cat Trail. Sure enough, you stroll right by jaguar, mountain lion, and leopard enclosures.
After about 0.5 mile of total travel, you dip to touch Park Way. Go across that street and pick up the one-way “moving walk” on the far side. Signs advise you to stay still, so at least savor the fact that you can gain some gravitational potential energy at no muscular expense. At the top, you emerge at the edge of the newest and most elaborate of the zoo’s exhibits, Elephant Odyssey, which will sorely tempt you to engage in a side trip.
Keeping in mind the purpose of our 1.3-mile focused march, press on south and join Park Way. Stroll past the Skyfari (chair-lift) station and the Polar Bear Plunge exhibit and curve left past the Birds of Prey exhibit using the Eagle Trail.
After descending to Park Way, follow the left-side sidewalk for about 100 feet and then swing right (going across Park Way) to pick up the Hippo Trail. You’ve come about a mile so far and have only a third of a mile to go, albeit an almost entirely uphill segment, in order to complete the loop.
Past the hippos, take care to stay right on the Tiger Trail, which will take you through the deepest, darkest part of the zoo landscape (not to mention past a host of interesting captive animals).
When you reach a point where you are almost directly underneath a steel bridge, swing right to remain on Tiger Trail. After a bit more climbing, you emerge on sunny Easy Street. Swing right and complete the last few steps to the where you began your journey.
A Walkabout at the Zoo
Early-morning exercise at the San Diego Zoo? Try it.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 2 miles
Hiking length: 1.3 miles • Difficulty: Easy