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Bounded by some 32 freeway lanes carrying a half million vehicles a day, and smack dab in San Diego County’s busiest commercial zone, the San Diego River greenway in Mission Valley offers a surprising bit of tranquility. An agreeable, though thoroughly artificial simulation of a riparian habitat exists here now, in stark contrast to the massive ripping apart of the landscape that took place in the early 1990s.

The “First San Diego River Improvement Project,” as the flood channel and greenway is known today, stretches between the 163 and 805 freeways. Designed for both flood control and wildlife habitat, the project has so far contained winter-storm runoff and attracts its fair share of resident and migrating waterfowl.

Wide concrete sidewalks follow both the north and south banks of the river between Qualcomm Way and a point west of Mission Village Road near the 163 freeway. The paths will likely be extended farther east and west along the river upon completion of future “improvement projects.”

Some three miles of walking, running, skating, or cycling suffice to cover the existing paths. The last decade has seen a remarkable growth of seeded riparian vegetation along the paths and riverbank. The now-jungle-like screen of mature willow, sycamore, and cottonwood trees blots out the view of the river from most spots, so that birdwatching is possible only from a few select vantage points. This rampant growth, however, is effective in diffusing the sounds of omnidirectional traffic and the occasional overhead passage of the San Diego Trolley on elevated tracks.

A good place to park and start walking is on Camino de la Reina near Camino del Este or Qualcomm Way. During the early morning or after rush hour on a summer evening, the frenzy of mechanized transportation slackens, and you can hear the twittering of birds, the buzz of insects, and the whisper of leaves fluttering in the sea breeze. Your eyes may catch sight of butterflies and iridescent hummingbirds flitting among the flowers, and your nose will surely appreciate the sweet-pungent fragrance of the water-loving vegetation.

Mission Valley Walk
A linear oasis of serenity delights your senses in the busiest part of Mission Valley.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 4 miles
Hiking or biking length: 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy

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