Watch out for poison oak, which in fall has reddish leaves. Leaves are in three — “leaves in three, let it be.”
Navajo Canyon is one of 18 open space and canyon parklands within the City of San Diego. Open space areas are free from development or have “low intensity uses that respect natural environmental characteristics,” according to the city’s Department of Park and Recreation. Natural resources are preserved in these open areas and canyons.
The trail begins on Adobe Falls Road and works its way up canyon with several intermittent creek crossings. There are over 100 Mexican fan palms in this canyon. Mexican fan palms are much taller than the native California fan palms. The Mexican fan palms found here probably have grown from seeds from plantings many years ago at homes that surround the canyon.
The canyon has a variety of chaparral and riparian plants. Large shrubs include lemonade berry, laurel sumac, scrub oak, ceanothus, toyon, and willow.
Willow was used by the Kumeyaay of the area to make baskets. Mule fat, which looks similar in leaf-shape to willow, is also found along the watercourse. The two can be distinguished by looking at the underside of the linear-shaped leaf. The underside of willow is green while that of mule fat is silver. Along the watercourse are cattails and juncus. Juncus was the other important basket-making plant for the Kumeyaay.
Watch out for poison oak, which in fall has reddish leaves. Leaves are in three — “leaves in three, let it be.” There is also an abundance of prickly pear cholla, especially up canyon. Look for small balls of white that may appear on some of the prickly pear leaves. This is not part of the leaf but rather a scale insect called cochineal that lives on cactus in the genus Opuntia. If you press down on the white ball, there will be a crimson-colored dye. Cochineal was harvested in colonial Mexico and used to dye expensive fabrics. Be careful, as the dye stains; plus, the small hair-like prickles easily pierce skin, needing tweezers to remove.
Both white sage and black sage are in the canyon as well as horehound. A black licorice-smelling plant called fennel is also in the canyon. It is another introduced, nonnative plant of the county. Also look for thistles, baccharis, and non-native pampas grass.
At about mile 0.9, the trail forks. Take the left trail that leads to the third intermittent creek crossing. After crossing over the creek rocks, the trail has a steep climb that leads to an overview of Navajo Canyon at mile 1.15. The trail ends at about mile 1.25 at a parking lot for Price of Peace Lutheran Church on Easton Court. Turn around and head back down the canyon to Adobe Falls Road and the trailhead.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 9 miles. Allow 13 minutes. Drive north on SR-163 and merge with I-8 east. Drive 4.5 miles and exit on Waring Road. Turn right (east) on Adobe Falls Rd at the first signal light. Park after 0.2 mile. Trailhead is at the corner where Adobe Falls Road turns left. No facilities. No bikes. Dogs on leashes allowed.
Hiking length: 2.6 miles out and back. Allow 1.5 hours for a leisurely hike.
Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss 325 feet. Sections have pebble surface.