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Explore a serene, pocket-sized mountain valley

Love Valley Meadow is tucked into the southern flanks of Palomar Mountain

Lake Henshaw viewed from the trail heading into the meadow
Lake Henshaw viewed from the trail heading into the meadow
Blooming rock-cress along the trail

The trailhead for Love Valley Meadow can be easily missed when driving up the East Grade Road/S-7 into Palomar Mountain as it begins from the back of a deep turnout alongside the road. While not a particularly long or challenging trail, it offers the opportunity to spend a few hours enjoying the views and solitude of this pocket-sized mountain valley. Once owned by the Mendenhall family, who settled on Palomar Mountain in 1869, Love Valley has been part of the Cleveland National Forest since the 1980s. The Mendenhalls did, and still do, use Love Valley for winter grazing of cattle that summer in nearby French Valley.

Engelmann oaks in the meadow

The entrance gate to the trail is found at the rear of the turnout. The trail is on a wide dirt road, which is a former segment of East Grade Road. Before leaving the turnout, look for the small light blue, sometimes almost white, displays of baby blue eyes and the dark purple pea-like flowers of winter vetch.

As you descend into Love Valley, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Henshaw in San Felipe Valley. The lake came into being in 1923 with the construction of Henshaw Dam, an earthen dam 123 feet (37 m) tall and 650 feet (200 m) long. It is owned by the Vista Irrigation District, and its waters are used primarily for agricultural irrigation. It fills what is termed a sag basin caused by downward land movements beside the Elsinore fault.

If hiking in spring, look for the purple blooms of ceanothus and the hot pink flowers of rockcress sprouting from their long, slender stalks along the trail. Even the black oak will have color in spring. Although not a flower, the pink/red hue of new black oak leaves put on a colorful show before they turn to their summer green. While parts of this area were burned in the 1999 La Jolla Indian Reservation fire, the chaparral has recovered well.

Map to Love Valley

Upon reaching the valley floor, the trail may be taken either to the right or left. Going right for a short distance (0.2 mile) will bring you to a dilapidated barn and corral. You may spot red-winged blackbirds atop the wooden fence. Look for the flash of the red chevron on their wings as they move from perch to perch. After visiting the barn, retrace your steps to the trail junction and continue south along the meadow while walking among stands of blue-gray leaved Engelmann oaks and their greener leaved cousins, the coast live oaks. Engelmann oak woodlands are one of the most endangered oak communities in California with 90 percent of the remaining stands occurring in San Diego County.

The meadow hosts a variety of wildflowers, depending on the season. Purple bouquets of lupine, seas of yellow buttercups, and the pink cup-shaped flowers of checkerbloom cover the meadow floor. There may also be seasonal ponds after the showers of winter and spring. You may choose to turn around at any point or continue along the meadow’s edge and eventually loop back to the old barn. In either case, retrace your steps back up the road to return to your vehicle.


Distance from downtown San Diego: 66 miles. Allow 1.5 hours driving time (Palomar). From I-15 N, exit on Via Rancho Pkwy and turn right (east) onto E. Via Rancho Pkwy./Bear Valley Pkwy. Turn right on Valley Pkwy/S-6, which turns into Valley Center Rd./S-6. Turn right onto SR-76 E and drive 14.6 miles to E. Grade Rd./S-7 and turn left just east of Lake Henshaw and go 3.3 miles. The trailhead is on the left.

Hiking Length: 2–4 miles.

Difficulty: Easy with 300 feet of elevation gain/loss. Hikers, bicycles, dogs (on leashes), and horses are allowed on the trail. No facilities. Adventure Pass required.

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Lake Henshaw viewed from the trail heading into the meadow
Lake Henshaw viewed from the trail heading into the meadow
Blooming rock-cress along the trail

The trailhead for Love Valley Meadow can be easily missed when driving up the East Grade Road/S-7 into Palomar Mountain as it begins from the back of a deep turnout alongside the road. While not a particularly long or challenging trail, it offers the opportunity to spend a few hours enjoying the views and solitude of this pocket-sized mountain valley. Once owned by the Mendenhall family, who settled on Palomar Mountain in 1869, Love Valley has been part of the Cleveland National Forest since the 1980s. The Mendenhalls did, and still do, use Love Valley for winter grazing of cattle that summer in nearby French Valley.

Engelmann oaks in the meadow

The entrance gate to the trail is found at the rear of the turnout. The trail is on a wide dirt road, which is a former segment of East Grade Road. Before leaving the turnout, look for the small light blue, sometimes almost white, displays of baby blue eyes and the dark purple pea-like flowers of winter vetch.

As you descend into Love Valley, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Henshaw in San Felipe Valley. The lake came into being in 1923 with the construction of Henshaw Dam, an earthen dam 123 feet (37 m) tall and 650 feet (200 m) long. It is owned by the Vista Irrigation District, and its waters are used primarily for agricultural irrigation. It fills what is termed a sag basin caused by downward land movements beside the Elsinore fault.

If hiking in spring, look for the purple blooms of ceanothus and the hot pink flowers of rockcress sprouting from their long, slender stalks along the trail. Even the black oak will have color in spring. Although not a flower, the pink/red hue of new black oak leaves put on a colorful show before they turn to their summer green. While parts of this area were burned in the 1999 La Jolla Indian Reservation fire, the chaparral has recovered well.

Map to Love Valley

Upon reaching the valley floor, the trail may be taken either to the right or left. Going right for a short distance (0.2 mile) will bring you to a dilapidated barn and corral. You may spot red-winged blackbirds atop the wooden fence. Look for the flash of the red chevron on their wings as they move from perch to perch. After visiting the barn, retrace your steps to the trail junction and continue south along the meadow while walking among stands of blue-gray leaved Engelmann oaks and their greener leaved cousins, the coast live oaks. Engelmann oak woodlands are one of the most endangered oak communities in California with 90 percent of the remaining stands occurring in San Diego County.

The meadow hosts a variety of wildflowers, depending on the season. Purple bouquets of lupine, seas of yellow buttercups, and the pink cup-shaped flowers of checkerbloom cover the meadow floor. There may also be seasonal ponds after the showers of winter and spring. You may choose to turn around at any point or continue along the meadow’s edge and eventually loop back to the old barn. In either case, retrace your steps back up the road to return to your vehicle.


Distance from downtown San Diego: 66 miles. Allow 1.5 hours driving time (Palomar). From I-15 N, exit on Via Rancho Pkwy and turn right (east) onto E. Via Rancho Pkwy./Bear Valley Pkwy. Turn right on Valley Pkwy/S-6, which turns into Valley Center Rd./S-6. Turn right onto SR-76 E and drive 14.6 miles to E. Grade Rd./S-7 and turn left just east of Lake Henshaw and go 3.3 miles. The trailhead is on the left.

Hiking Length: 2–4 miles.

Difficulty: Easy with 300 feet of elevation gain/loss. Hikers, bicycles, dogs (on leashes), and horses are allowed on the trail. No facilities. Adventure Pass required.

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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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