San Dieguito River Park’s Coast to Crest Trail extends from the coast at Del Mar to the summit of Volcan Mountain near Julian. Part of the Coast to Crest Trail is within the 11,000-acre San Pasqual Agricultural Preserve, owned by the City of San Diego. The Coast to Crest Trail within the preserve is also called the San Pasqual Valley Trail. The trail has various staging areas. On October 8, 2011, the Old Coach Staging Area and trail link was officially opened. The Old Coach Staging Area is the starting point for two trails. In the southeast corner, the Old Coach Trail Staging Area “North” sign is the north end of Old Coach Trail located in Poway. The hike described here goes north from the staging area, ties in to the Coast to Crest/San Pasqual Valley Trail to the 700-foot high Raptor Ridge overlooking the San Pasqual Valley.
Walk north from the parking area, along the Highland Valley Road through the Evergreen Nursery growing grounds, for about 200 yards until the marked crossing of Highland Valley Road is encountered. Carefully cross the road and the path will shortly tie into the Coast to Crest Trail. To the left is the Mule Hill Historical Trail. Go to the right to follow along an old road for 1.5 miles. There is riparian habitat to the left and coastal sage scrub to the right. This part of the trail is mostly level. Depending on the time of year, many wildflowers can be seen, including showy penstemon, bachelor buttons, buckwheat, and bush mallow. In addition, there are numerous willow, cottonwood, coast live oak, and a few eucalyptus trees. The trail has several benches located under trees that are inviting stops to contemplate the views.
At the end of the 1.5 miles, the old road ends. There is a picnic table and information kiosk at this point. From here, start the 0.85-mile climb on a north-facing slope that has a mix of large boulders and chaparral. The trail is not difficult but does gain about 350 feet in elevation. The wildflower bloom here in the spring can be spectacular, with Chinese houses, fiesta flowers, black sage, white sage, wild cucumber, and others. There is also lots of holly-leaf redberry. At the top of the ridge, there is a wide spot with a couple of benches situated for viewing the San Pasqual Valley to the north and west. Continue for another 50 feet to a viewpoint overlooking the San Pasqual Valley Agricultural Preserve.
Remember to bring binoculars. Raptor Ridge is aptly named. Raptors that will be seen include red-tailed hawks, kestrels, and kites. In earlier days, when the Kumeyaay and early settlers lived here, the San Pasqual Valley was known as “the valley of eagles.” There are also numerous other birds (including ostriches at a couple of farms in the valley). If you are lucky, you may be able to pick out a giraffe or rhinoceros at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park as you look north and east from the overlook.
The return trip is via the same trail unless arrangements were made to park a second vehicle at the next staging area on the Coast to Crest Trail-San Pasqual Valley Trail section (Ysabel Creek Staging Area), which is about 2.5 miles from the viewpoint.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 26 miles. Allow 30 minutes driving time. (San Dieguito River Park, Escondido) From CA-163N merge onto I-15 to the Pomerado Rd./West Rancho Bernardo Rd. exit. Go east on Pomerado Rd. to the first traffic light after leaving the freeway exit and make a left turn onto Highland Valley Rd. Drive 2.4 miles from the traffic light to the Old Coach Staging Area on the right. There is ample parking and the trailhead is well marked.
Hiking length: 4.7 miles out and back.
Difficulty: Moderate, with about 370 feet elevation loss/gain. Hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and dogs (on leashes) are allowed. No facilities.