The rolling hills in and around Poway create a unique mix of habitat types and climatic conditions. These varied ecosystems in turn foster an incredible amount of plant and animal diversity and are a large reason why San Diego and much of Southern California are world-famous “biodiversity hotspots.” Several of these habitat types are easily explored via a comfortable and accessible walking tour through Blue Sky Ecological Reserve. The 700-acre reserve is managed by the California Department of Fish and Game, the City of Poway, and San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation. Only a few minutes north of Poway and just off of I-15 on Espola Road, the reserve provides walkers, runners, and dog-walkers a perfect opportunity to experience and learn about their natural surroundings. The purpose of the reserve is habitat conservation. Bicycles are not allowed.
A largely flat gravel-and-dirt path departs from the parking lot on Espola Road, first dropping into an oak-canyon/riparian corridor. This part of the trail is mostly shaded, thanks in large part to the stream on the north side of the trail that provides enough water for relatively tall coast live oaks and sycamores to thrive. Hang a left onto the Oak Canyon Trail to descend into a cool and refreshing oak grotto where these beautiful trees and a wide section of the stream can be explored up close. Keep an ear out for the songs of frogs that also appreciate the refreshment offered by the cool water.
Upon exiting the oak grotto, the trail continues to follow along the stream until a fork is reached just under a mile from the parking lot. One branch continues with the stream (stay left at the fork), eventually reaching the Ramona Dam after an additional 1.5 miles. There is also a small outdoor classroom for educational programs and a pit toilet on the right side of this trail, just after the fork. A right turn at the fork will arrive at the Lake Poway Dam in a little over a mile. For further distance and/or challenge, a number of additional trails can be reached from here, including the Lake Poway Loop and Mount Woodson Trail.
Whether you choose to turn back at the fork or explore one or all of the trail extensions, be sure to find a break in the shelter of the oaks lining the trail. Excellent views of the surrounding hills and two additional native habitat types are your reward. Most of these rocky hills are covered with sage scrub, a habitat characterized by aromatic, drought-resistant plants such as white and black sage, the unrelated California sagebrush, and California buckwheat. The denser, taller chaparral habitat of ceanothus, scrub oak, toyon, and others can also be found here. Finally, try to gain a little elevation and the cool, shaded corridor you walked through from the parking lot takes on a whole new meaning. The importance of water (and gravity) becomes abundantly clear when the green “vein” of oaks is seen snaking along the valley floor below much drier hillsides.
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: