17953 Dos Picos Park Road, Ramona
The Dos Picos Regional Park is a bit of a hidden treasure tucked in the heart of Ramona. The 78-acre park features a large, well-maintained picnic area and campgrounds with good facilities nestled within shady oak woodlands and boulders. The nature trail is a special treat with beautiful views of the park and surrounding hills and an abundance of unusually large and healthy native plant species.
There are two ways to enter the Ernie Pantoja Memorial Trail. The official trailhead is located between camping spots 48 and 49 and is marked with a sign, a memorial plaque, and a low brick wall backed by large, dramatic boulders. However, the other end of the trail is easier to access from the picnic area parking lot.
Starting from the map kiosk in the parking lot, walk to your left until you see a charming wooden bridge leading you into a shady area with oak trees and rocks. The bridge spans a seasonal stream that is dry part of the year. This leads past many picnic tables and a pond with ducks, grackles, and other birds. Walk to your right, almost to the southeast corner of the pond, and you will reach the back of the Ernie Pantoja Memorial Trail. This part of the path leads up the hill and is less shady, but the path is wide, terraced, and very well maintained, so it is not a difficult climb.
This path packs a large number of native plants into a short, 1-mile trail. There are several varieties of oak trees, providing periodic shade. Usually one finds small plants of yellow monkey flower or red-flowered, heart-leaf penstemons, and only one or a few plants at a time in the East County. Here, large stands of these plants make a surprising and beautiful display in the late spring. Many plants found along this trail show unusually large leaves and tall growth, suggesting a good amount of precipitation. The ceanothus may be hard to recognize in an almost tree-like form. You will see a lot of scrub oak, yerba santa, sugar bush, and laurel sumac. Beware of poison oak; it grows vigorously and can be beautiful when the leaves are mixed red and green. Other native plants to look for include black mustard (yellow flowers), elderberry, bush penstemon, chamise (yellow flowers), black sage, giant bedstraw, mountain mahogany (feathery seeds), currant, purple aster, sawtooth golden bush, Indian pinks (red flowers), deer weed, wild cucumber, pearly everlasting, purple phacelia, bee plant, and honeysuckle. If you are lucky enough to see the red berry bush in fruit, the bright, translucent berries seem to glow in the sunlight. A surprising find is the zylococcus bicolor (mission manzanita) or two-toned manzanita. This variety of manzanita has curled leaves, dark green on top and light green on bottom. It has a limited range and is usually found closer to the coast.
There is a good view of Mount Woodson about halfway through the trail and the intermittent shade makes the hike suitable for any time of year. If you are interested in the campsites, which include a few small cabins as well as RV and tent slots, or reserving portions of the large picnic areas, contact the park directly for reservations and fee information. Park website: sdcounty.ca.gov/parks/Camping/dos_picos.html
Distance from downtown San Diego: About 35 miles. Allow 45 minutes. Take Hwy 163 N to I-15 N. Exit on Scripps Poway Parkway and continue driving 8.6 miles to Hwy 67. Turn left (north) on Hwy 67 and after 7.4 miles, turn right onto Mussey Grade Road. After 1.1 miles, turn right on Dos Picos Park Road. The first entrance is the picnic entrance. There is a $3 entry fee. Park hours are 9:30 am to sunset, seven days a week.
Hiking length: About one mile in length.
Difficulty: Easy. Facilities in the campground area.