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Los Peñasquitos Lagoon

Los Peñasquitos Lagoon, one of San Diego County’s largest coastal wetlands, spreads far and wide in Sorrento Valley, between La Jolla and Torrey Pines. Nearly all of this marshy area belongs to Torrey Pines State Reserve, though it has its own title: Los Peñasquitos Lagoon Natural Preserve. The approach to the preserve is obscure and a bit awkward, but you’ll surely enjoy the easy and flat, three-mile hike you can take here — especially during this spring-green time of year.

If you are driving north from La Jolla on Interstate 5, the way to the trailhead is relatively simple. Take the Sorrento Valley exit, turn left on Roselle Street, go 0.3 mile north, and turn left on Dunhill Street. Dunhill soon becomes Flintkote Avenue. Just drive to the end of Flintkote and stop before the locked gate ahead. Carefully observe the no-parking signs posted along the last 150 yards or so short of the gate. Southbound travelers on I-5 or I-805 can take either the Carmel Mountain Road or the Sorrento Valley Road exits and then make their way over to the industrial area underneath the merge. Just remember that you need to go west of the railroad tracks to find Roselle Street.

Start walking past the locked gate on a paved driveway. After an uneventful but quick half a mile, you pass a private residence and spot a couple of interpretive plaques ahead, which detail some facts about the lagoon and the preserve. Press on, following a rougher, hard-surfaced road, which lasts another half mile. The scenery improves greatly on this stretch, as you begin to enjoy beautiful vistas of the spreading marshland on the right and the sheer sandstone bluffs on the left, which are pocked with small cavities (perhaps home to at least one great horned owl) and dotted with Torrey pines. You can amuse yourself with the impromptu antics of squirrels and cottontail rabbits, and with the help of binoculars, scout out the abundant bird life in the lagoon.

After the deteriorated road ends, a narrow footpath, semi-overgrown as of last month, continues through a zone of gorgeous, spring-green and blossoming coastal sage-scrub and chaparral vegetation. Both of these plant communities are in their mature phase, since there have been no wildfires here for many years. Amid the soft-looking shrubby vegetation, look for prickly-pear cactus and less frequent specimens of coast cholla cactus. Two potential hazards to be aware of this time of year are rattlesnakes and ticks.

After a few hundred yards on the primitive trail, you’ll likely reach an impasse, where the marshy bottomland presses against a steep hillside and it’s too muddy to continue. This is the spot to turn around and retrace your steps.

Los Penasquitos Lagoon
Del Mar’s Los Peñasquitos Lagoon Natural Preserve serves up good birding and plenty of blooming vegetation.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 15 miles
Hiking length: 3 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Easy


  • This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily 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.
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Los Peñasquitos Lagoon, one of San Diego County’s largest coastal wetlands, spreads far and wide in Sorrento Valley, between La Jolla and Torrey Pines. Nearly all of this marshy area belongs to Torrey Pines State Reserve, though it has its own title: Los Peñasquitos Lagoon Natural Preserve. The approach to the preserve is obscure and a bit awkward, but you’ll surely enjoy the easy and flat, three-mile hike you can take here — especially during this spring-green time of year.

If you are driving north from La Jolla on Interstate 5, the way to the trailhead is relatively simple. Take the Sorrento Valley exit, turn left on Roselle Street, go 0.3 mile north, and turn left on Dunhill Street. Dunhill soon becomes Flintkote Avenue. Just drive to the end of Flintkote and stop before the locked gate ahead. Carefully observe the no-parking signs posted along the last 150 yards or so short of the gate. Southbound travelers on I-5 or I-805 can take either the Carmel Mountain Road or the Sorrento Valley Road exits and then make their way over to the industrial area underneath the merge. Just remember that you need to go west of the railroad tracks to find Roselle Street.

Start walking past the locked gate on a paved driveway. After an uneventful but quick half a mile, you pass a private residence and spot a couple of interpretive plaques ahead, which detail some facts about the lagoon and the preserve. Press on, following a rougher, hard-surfaced road, which lasts another half mile. The scenery improves greatly on this stretch, as you begin to enjoy beautiful vistas of the spreading marshland on the right and the sheer sandstone bluffs on the left, which are pocked with small cavities (perhaps home to at least one great horned owl) and dotted with Torrey pines. You can amuse yourself with the impromptu antics of squirrels and cottontail rabbits, and with the help of binoculars, scout out the abundant bird life in the lagoon.

After the deteriorated road ends, a narrow footpath, semi-overgrown as of last month, continues through a zone of gorgeous, spring-green and blossoming coastal sage-scrub and chaparral vegetation. Both of these plant communities are in their mature phase, since there have been no wildfires here for many years. Amid the soft-looking shrubby vegetation, look for prickly-pear cactus and less frequent specimens of coast cholla cactus. Two potential hazards to be aware of this time of year are rattlesnakes and ticks.

After a few hundred yards on the primitive trail, you’ll likely reach an impasse, where the marshy bottomland presses against a steep hillside and it’s too muddy to continue. This is the spot to turn around and retrace your steps.

Los Penasquitos Lagoon
Del Mar’s Los Peñasquitos Lagoon Natural Preserve serves up good birding and plenty of blooming vegetation.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 15 miles
Hiking length: 3 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Easy


  • This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily 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.
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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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