The 2,272-acre Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve is owned by San Diego County Park and Recreation while the 325-acre Goodan Ranch that is within the preserve is jointly owned by the county, the cities of Poway and Santee, and the CA Department of Fish and Game. Together they offer over 10 miles of hiking through coastal sage, chaparral, oak woodland, riparian, and grassland habitats.
The 2003 Cedar Fire burned over 95 percent of the preserve, but it has come back beautifully. Look for spice bush, San Diego’s wild member of the citrus family, as well as flowering chamise, ceanothus, manzanita, buckwheat, laurel sumac, bush monkey flower, and other common chaparral species blooming in their season. Note the interesting rounded and polished rocks on the top of the ridge that appear to have been tumbled in water.
There are outstanding views of rolling, chaparral-covered hills and of Sycamore Canyon below on the Ridge Trail. It is best to bring at least a quart of water and start early at the west end of the staging area since there is no shade. At 1.2 miles, look for a wooden sign and a trail leading off the ridge on your right, continuing just a little over half a mile to the bottom of Sycamore Canyon to the historic Stowe Trail.
In the latter part of the 19th Century a town named Stowe was established in Sycamore Canyon and a dirt road went up Sycamore Canyon from Santee to Stowe. Although the town of Stowe has long since vanished, the road still exists...although it is an illegal entry into the preserve from Mission Trails.
Once you reach the canyon, follow the trail (dirt road) north approximately 0.25 mile to a trail leading off to the left. Follow it, cross the stream, and join the West Boundary Trail, which parallels the road. Continue north on the edge of lush riparian vegetation with sycamore trees, arroyo willows, coast live oaks, cottonwoods, and, in the winter and spring, a flowing stream. About 0.5 mile up this trail, cross over onto the road and visit the Goodan Ranch Center, a newly constructed building where there are toilets, drinking water, a small museum, and a place to sit in shade and relax. It is just west of the ruins of the ranch house that was destroyed in the Cedar Fire.
After resting and imagining what it must have been like to live in this isolated setting, continue north on the West Boundary Trail for 0.5 mile, where you have the option of going east up Cardiac Hill to the staging area to finish the hike in a little over 1.3 miles, but you will miss one of the best parts of the preserve. Instead, continue north on the road for less than a mile to the Goodan Staging Area and the preserve’s Poway north entrance to the Martha’s Grove trailhead. A good part of this well-maintained trail traverses a shady coast live oak woodland and, at about 0.75 mile, you will come to the Martha Harville Oak Grove Memorial, where there is a cool, verdant, shady oasis with picnic tables and benches that honor the memory of a park ranger.
After resting in Martha’s Grove, continue walking south and west. The trail again becomes a dirt road taking you back into the grassland. At about 1.75 miles from the trailhead, there is a junction. The road to the left goes up Cardiac Hill, leading to your parked car. Despite its name, Cardiac Hill is not very challenging. In a little over 1 mile is the junction with Sycamore Park Drive.
Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes: