Rustic signs along some of Clairemont’s and Bay Park’s major streets call attention to one of the oldest designated open-space parks in San Diego: the 900-acre Tecolote Canyon Natural Park. The park’s unpaved service roads and narrow footpaths allow access to various parts of the canyon floor, sometimes by mountain bike and more often by hiking. Out there, you might spot hawks and ravens soaring on the strong coastal breeze blowing up the canyon. Near dawn or dusk, you might hear the yapping of a coyote or the plaintive hoot of an owl, the creature for which this canyon was named.
Parts of the canyon are beautiful and surprisingly green, particularly right now in the aftermath of the winter rains. This column highlights a not-so-well-known “finger canyon” — an east fork off the main Tecolote Canyon —that cuts into the flat-topped heights of Linda Vista and Kearny Mesa. You can gain access to it by way of Boyd Road, which has a designated parking area and a short trail leading into the canyon, or by walking south on Genesee Avenue from Marlesta Drive. If the latter is your choice, then don’t try this on weekdays when San Diego Mesa College is in session. You won’t find any place to park nearby. On weekends, you can find curbside parking on Marlesta Drive, Mesa College’s back entrance. From there, you just walk south along the west side of Genesee Avenue until you get to the hiking trail on the right.
No matter where you start, you can work your way west through Tecolote Canyon’s east fork using one side of the canyon bottom and then the other. The sometimes-easy-to-follow, sometimes obscure trail darts under mature, leafy chaparral plants and passes coast live oaks, willows, cottonwoods, and palms. Depending on how recent the last rains have been, the trail could be flooded in a couple of spots, or at least muddy. One thing to keep in mind is that if the trail leads into an impenetrable thicket of vegetation (which could contain poison oak growths), then you’ve gone astray and you need to back up to return to the main trail.
About a mile west of Genesee Avenue, you arrive at the boundary fence of a golfers’ driving range. You might retrace your steps from there…or follow a powerline access road northward or southward or find and follow a narrow path that continues south along the perimeter fence of the fairways and greens of the Tecolote Canyon Golf Course. These alternatives lack the beauty of the one-mile stretch of canyon you’ve just explored.
San Diego Mesa College sponsors an annual springtime “Canyon Cleanup,” which focuses on Tecolote Canyon’s east fork. This year the event takes place Saturday, March 26, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. In particular, volunteers will be clearing trash and invasive species of plants. Refreshments are served, and an informative talk takes place after noon. Volunteers should meet at Genesee and Marlesta Drive. For necessary information, visit http://www.sdmesa.edu/canyonday/cleanup.cfm.
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.
East Tecolote Canyon
Discover a piece of undisturbed nature right next to Mesa College.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 7 miles
Hiking length: 2 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy to moderate