An intermittent stream flows through Black Canyon, providing seasonal water for a lush riparian habitat that includes live oaks, cottonwood trees, willows, white alders, and even a few native black walnut trees. There are also waterfalls cascading down polished rock faces into pools of cool water and abundant birds, deer, and other wildlife the water sustains. The water flowing through this canyon can become a torrent after a storm, moving large boulders down the canyon with the amount slowing to a trickle in the summer and times of drought. Waterfalls and pools attract people, some of whom leave behind their trash and feel the need to mark their visit with graffiti. Unfortunately, both trash and graffiti are abundant here, but so is the natural beauty of the canyon.
Begin hiking down the Santa Ysabel Truck Trail (SYTT). In 0.2 mile, is Black Creek and the former U.S. Forest Service’s Black Canyon Campground (closed in the 1980’s after flood damage), set in a live oak, sycamore, and willow forest. The trail follows Black Creek in a generally northeast direction. Initially it is the remains of a paved road that ran from SYTT through the campground. Watch for the interesting plants known to occur here including stream orchid, native California peony, southern tauschia, astragalus, and Cleveland sage. After 0.6 mile, the canyon narrows somewhat, and it becomes necessary to climb over and/or around some huge boulders. Don’t become discouraged and turn around at this point because a sight worthy of the struggle to get here will be visible in another 0.25 mile. The reward is a beautiful waterfall cascading (or trickling in dry months) into a large pool surrounded by tall granite walls.
Continued travel up the canyon from this point is not advised. To explore more of Black Canyon, return to your car and drive 0.7 mile up Black Canyon Road where there is an easily navigated Forest Service trail leading down into the middle reaches of the canyon. However, exploration is limited in distance as the canyon enters the Mesa Grande Indian Reservation where trespassing is not allowed without permission.
The Black Canyon Road Bridge built in 1913 was one of 18 three-hinged arch bridges built between 1909 and 1917 by Thomas and Post using the Thomas method of precast, reinforced concrete sections. The design allowed movement in two opposite directions by two hinges at the base and one at midspan, thus compensating for thermal and seismic expansion and contraction. It is now closed to vehicular traffic, while the new concrete and steel bridge looks as though it belongs in a city. Although the new bridge is somewhat incongruous in this setting, Black Canyon Road is a major route in and out of the Mesa Grande Indiana Reservation. Black Canyon burned in the Witch Creek Fire in 2007.
- Distance from downtown San Diego: 46 miles. Allow 1 hour (Ramona). From SR-78 drive north for approximately four miles, first on Sutherland Dam Road then making a sharp right onto Black Canyon Road over the new bridge. Just beyond the bridge to the left is a locked gate to the Santa Ysabel Truck Trail, where the walk starts. Do not block the gate, park on the left just off Black Canyon Road. An adventure pass is needed. There are no facilities or water.
- Hiking length: Less than 2-miles total out and back.
- Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss, about 100 feet. To reach the pools there is a certain amount of climbing over, around, and even under boulders.