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For the second year in a row, fire-following springtime wildflowers are popping up on the slopes of Poway’s Rattlesnake Canyon. A reconnaissance of the area in late March revealed a rainbow of color: California poppies, lupines, owl’s clover, popcorn flower, phacelia, wild morning glories, ground pink, and wishbone bush. The best bloom will not last long, perhaps not beyond the first week of April.

Nearly all of Rattlesnake Canyon was swept by the 2007 Witch Creek Fire. This may be the last year in which annual wildflowers play a major role in the natural process of plant succession here. Sage-scrub and chaparral shrubs will coat the canyon slopes a few years hence, and they will remain in place until some future wildfire converts them to ash which will fertilize the next generation of wildflowers.

To reach Rattlesnake Canyon, navigate to the intersection of Twin Peaks Road and Espola Road on Poway’s east side. Drive east from Espola toward the dead end of Twin Peaks Road, and turn right on Range Park Road. Continue 0.2 mile south to a slight dip in the road, where you’ll spot the signed Rattlesnake Canyon entrance on the left. Plenty of curbside parking space is available.

The wide pathway into the oak-lined canyon strikes east, passing a couple of houses whose owners have granted public access for passage through the property ahead. After nearly one-half mile, look for a slab of granitic rock on the right, next to some live oak trees, with a shallow mortar hole in it. Centuries ago, people of the Kumeyaay tribe pounded and pulverized acorns here. A short distance ahead, on the left, is a steep path descending the hillside — this will be your return route if you follow the three-mile route described here in its entirely.

Stay on the main, lower pathway. Both the pathway and the canyon curve left, and about 0.2 mile ahead the canyon divides, with the main Rattlesnake Canyon heading north and a tributary canyon branching east. Stay left, ignoring any side paths to the right. You want to head north, directly away from busy Poway Road, which can be seen (and heard) high above. The track you’re following dips into Rattlesnake Canyon’s trickling stream at 1.0 mile from the start, and you may struggle to find its continuation on the far side of a thicket of riparian vegetation. On ahead, the now-severely-eroded track goes more steeply uphill, to a saddle at 1.4 miles, where you join a smoother dirt path. Turn left and begin a winding traverse across a hillside, heading south. By 2.0 miles, you’ll have a clear view of Tooth Rock, a grayish-colored granitic monolith you may have spotted earlier when you were arriving in your car.

Climb all the way to the ridgeline where Tooth Rock protrudes. Check out the panoramic view from there, which includes much of the inland North County region. The “tooth” needs some dental work: Its top, seamed with cracks, could use a crown. The sides of the tooth, close to the ground, are blackened by graffiti.

When it’s time to go, retrace your steps about 0.1 mile and choose the path that branches right (south) and makes a steep dive into the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon. At the foot of that steep path, retrace the initial one-half mile of your hike.

A grassroots organization called Friends of Rattlesnake Canyon sponsors walks in the canyon, including one taking place on Saturday, April 4. For more information, call 858-486-1990 or visit [email protected].

Rattlesnake Canyon
Post-fire wildflowers paint the slopes of Poway’s Rattlesnake Canyon.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 20 miles
Hiking length: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

This article contains information about a publicly accessible recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

Hear Jerry Schad discuss this column on Reader Radio!

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