You can run a boat, but no swimming in Dixon Lake because it’s Escondido’s drinking water
1700 North La Honda Drive, Escondido
Dixon Lake is a multipurpose recreation area adjacent to the Daley Ranch Open Space Preserve. Both are managed by the City of Escondido, but separately. Dixon Lake provides drinking water for Escondido, so swimming isn’t allowed. However, a wealth of outdoor activities is possible here that includes boating, fishing, picnicking, and camping. The hike described goes through a variety of habitats with some surprising vistas, not only of the lake, but also of Escondido down below.
Begin hiking east down the paved Dixon Lake entrance road, also signed as the Jack Creek Trail. About 500 feet ahead, find the Dixon Lake Nature Trail on the left and take it. It is a trail for hikers only, going through a delightful mix of lush chaparral and oak woodland. Here are stately Engelmann oaks, spreading coast live oaks, and some quite large scrub oaks shading the trail through flowering flat-top buckwheat, black and white sage, chamise, and bush monkeyflower, as well as numerous annuals such as mariposa lilies and the San Diego golden star. The trail continues for about half a mile, ending as it emerges on the Sage Trail, one of the main Daley Ranch hiking and biking trails. Go right on the Sage Trail for about 0.10 mile where it ends in a T-junction with a lake access road. Go left on the road, named the Rattlesnake Trail. It is not open to bicycles but can be used by motorized vehicles. Rattlesnake trail goes up to a pass where there is the first glimpse of the lake, as well as the trail winding down to it. The trail ends at the lake, 1.35 miles from the entrance. A hiker’s-only trail begins just before the blue porta-potty at the end of the road. This shoreline trail continues for half a mile around Whisker Cove and to Catfish Cove, where it ends at the Catfish Cove parking lot.
Follow the road leading up the hill from Catfish Cove (open to motor vehicles but receives little traffic). In half a mile, take the road leading off to the left, which ends at Jack Creek Cove, about 0.25 mile ahead. The last leg of the journey is on the hikers’-only trail that leads from the Jack Creek Cove parking area back to the landscaped picnic area near the Dixon Lake entrance. Along the trail there are some interpretive signs explaining how Native Americans used some of the plants in the area.
- Distance from downtown San Diego: About 40. Allow 45 minutes (Escondido). Take CA-163N, which merges to I-15N to Escondido, exiting at El Norte Parkway. Go east on El Norte Parkway about 3 miles to La Honda Dr. on the left, marked by a small brown sign. Turn left on La Honda and drive 1 mile uphill to the entrances to Daley Ranch and Dixon Lake. Take a right turn into Dixon Lake Recreation Area. There is an entrance fee for vehicles except for drivers over 60 years of age. However, parking is free in the Daley Ranch lot just across the road. There is no charge for entering the Dixon Lake area on foot.
- Hiking length: 2.75 miles, loop hike.
- Difficulty: Moderately strenuous due to a 750-foot gain/loss in elevation. Dixon Lake trails are not open to equestrians, bikes, or dogs. Be aware that the interior valleys are hot in summer. There are abundant facilities, even porta-potties on the trails. The lake is open year-round, from 6 a.m. to dusk.