Comely Boden Canyon, rich with live-oak woodland and nestled between baked hillsides redolent with the sweet fragrance of sage, has become a part of San Diego County's newest parcel of protected open space. The Boden Canyon Ecological Reserve, west of Ramona, contains 2068 acres administered by the California Department of Fish and Game and the city and county of San Diego.
With dirt roads of varying width featuring gentle ascents and descents, the reserve is a perfect place for casual hiking and jogging. Mountain bikes, horses, and all forms of motorized transport are prohibited.
The as-yet-unmarked trailhead (a dirt-road intersection) is located on the north side of Highway 78, seven miles east of the San Diego Wild Animal Park and five miles west of the Highway 78/67 intersection in Ramona. Park on the dirt road so as not to block access to other vehicles, and walk downhill, passing a locked vehicle gate. Just beyond is a small bulletin board with a box of maps.
Continue descending to a hairpin turn, where the road swings around the bottom of Clevenger Canyon. The sycamores and oaks in the canyon bottom, draped with poison oak and wild grape, give a foretaste of much more of the same kind of scenery to come. At 1.7 miles, you cross Santa Ysabel Creek (with little or no water flowing until this winter's rains arrive) on a concrete ford. A little before this crossing, the Lower Santa Ysabel Road branches to the right, but it is so little traveled that you won't likely go astray.
Your course is now steadfastly north, with little wiggles here and there, as you make your way up the wide crease in the landscape known as Boden Canyon. Extravagant growths of coast live oak cast dense pools of shade upon the trail at frequent intervals. You'll also spot scattered Engelmann oaks, with gray-green foliage, and sycamores of all sizes, some with trunks twisted into fanciful shapes. Eucalyptus grows at two spots, probably the location of former ranch dwellings. At 5.5 miles into your hike or run, you come to the turnaround point, a locked gate with private land beyond. An old, tumbledown corrugated metal shack hides in the foliage nearly.
The cooler half of the year is unquestionably best for a visit to Boden Canyon; but with an early enough start, early autumn visits are worthwhile, too. Be sure to take along plenty of drinking water. The Fish and Game department has established an interim hunting zone in the northernmost accessible part of the canyon, encompassing the last mile of the trail. Be aware that hunting for various game animals may take place in this zone at intervals during the year.