Twenty-five miles of trails wind through the Daley Ranch nature preserve in Escondido. The Sage Trail offers views of Mallard Pond.
3024 La Honda Drive, Escondido
The Daley Ranch is a nature preserve of over 3000 acres owned and managed by the City of Escondido. The ranch is open for hiking, equestrians, and mountain biking every day from dawn to sunset. Over 25 miles of trails wind through the ranch over chaparral-covered hills and through tree-shaded valleys. It also has six ponds. The larger ponds have water year-around but several of the smaller ones usually dry up in the summer. The ponds were all man-made to provide water for livestock and now are a haven for waterfowl and other wild animals. The best time to visit is in winter or spring. Remember to bring drinking water.
This hike goes by the two largest ponds as well some of the ephemeral ponds. Start the hike by walking down the Dixon Lake entrance road, east of the ranch parking lot. Shortly after passing the entrance kiosk, a nature trail begins on the left. Take it through a shady oak-and-willow riparian corridor with interpretative signs naming some of the common native plants. The nature trail continues .4 mile to the Dixon Lake Trail. A right turn leads to the lake. Go left and in a short distance is the intersection of the Sage, East Ridge, and Dixon Lake trails. A small seasonal pond is just a few yards northwest of this junction and, if it has water, the heavy vegetation surrounding it will be filled with noisy red-wing blackbirds.
Turn left at the triple junction and hike up the rather steep East Ridge Trail. In about .25 mile is the junction with the single track Coyote Run Trail on the right. Take it and in .3 mile is another junction with the Diamond Back Trail on the left. This trail goes up a low ridge from which the Mallard Pond comes into view to the north. Continue on the Diamond Back Trail until it intersects with the Sage Trail. Going left down the Sage Trail leads past the Mallard Pond, and in .25 mile is the intersection with the Mallard Trail. The Mallard Trail traverses the top of the dam that created the pond and is a good place to watch for migratory waterfowl as well as some year-around water birds.
Leaving the pond, continue north on the Sage Trail to its junction with the Jack Creek Meadow Loop Trail. From this point the historic Daley Ranch House and out-buildings are visible under magnificent old coast live oaks. The Ranch House is a good place to rest awhile or for a picnic lunch, but the buildings are not open to visitors at this time.
To continue the hike, walk south down the Ranch House Trail a short distance to its junction with the East Ridge Trail on the left. In .4 mile it will take you to the Middle Pond Trail junction. The Middle Pond is a second perennial body of water and another good place to view waterfowl. The Middle Pond Trail continues beyond the pond leading back to the recently paved Ranch House Trail with interpretative signs identifying common native plants. Follow the Ranch House Trail south back to your vehicle.
Distance from downtown San Diego: About 40 miles. Allow 1 hour’s driving time. Go north on I-15 to Escondido and exit at El Norte Parkway. Drive east 3 miles to La Honda Drive and turn left on La Honda. Drive about 1 mile to the dirt parking lot on your left. There are no facilities on the ranch, but immediately adjacent to the parking area on the right is the entrance to Dixon Lake, a developed Escondido park with facilities and picnic tables. There is a $5 car-entrance fee for Dixon Lake.
Hiking length: Less than 4 miles in a loop.
Difficulty: Moderate with an elevation gain/loss of 600 feet. Short stretches where trail is steep and eroded. Dogs on leashes allowed.