Escondido’s Kit Carson Park is a large regional park with something for nearly everyone. In the developed portion of the park there are lighted fields for baseball, softball, soccer, and tennis courts, a 17-hole disc-golf course, a roller-skate park, a sculpture garden, two lakes, and covered picnic shelters, all set in an attractive, landscaped setting. With all the activities taking place here, it can get crowded, especially on weekends and holidays.
Only about a third of the park has been developed for organized activities, while about two-thirds remains open space. Much of this portion of the park lies within Bear Valley and its tributaries and is covered with coastal sage scrub, riparian vegetation, or forest. The natural area also includes a network of official trails and numerous trails for dog- and exercise-walkers, runners, and bicyclists. The hike outlined here is one of many options.
Start walking from your car on the paved path to Tree Lake. The trees are mainly nonnative eucalyptus, but the lake is ringed with native southern cattails where you might be able to spot (or at least hear the chortling of) red-winged blackbirds.
The trail forks within 200 feet of the trailhead. Take the north branch going off to the right, around the west side of the lake. Continue up a short incline and onto a straight, tree-shaded, paved pathway heading northwest, just above the Loop Road, on what appears to be a dike, directing water away from the large Westfield Shopping Plaza just south of the park. Dense riparian habitat occurs on the north side of the path. The map shows another lake, named Duck Lake, within this riparian jungle, but eutrophication has occurred and the lake no longer has open water. Now it is a marsh, with a thicket of cattails, bulrushes, and smartweed.
In about 0.5 mile, you come to a wooden bridge going off to your right. Cross the bridge and follow the path leading from it through coastal sage scrub habitat as it proceeds up a gentle slope, then down toward a wooded area with coast live oaks, California sycamores, several species of willows, as well as nonnatives.
Shortly after you reach the trees, a trail branches off to the left. Take it as it leads back into coastal sage habitat and around a hill covered with buckwheat, California sagebrush, and black sage. After going about a third of a mile, the trail makes a 90-degree turn and proceeds up the north slope of the hill. When you reach the crest, take in the panoramic views of Bear Valley, the park, and the surrounding hills.
Continue hiking down the hill. Take the trail branching off to the right toward a clump of trees that seems to sit off by itself. This is the five-acre Iris Sankey Arboretum, which surrounds the internationally known Queen Califia Magical Circle sculpture garden. There are nine large sculptures in the garden created by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Although definitely worth a visit, it is only open for a few hours each week. Call the park to see if it will be open if you want to include a visit to the sculpture garden on your hike.
From the sculpture garden, follow the trail to Eagle Scout Lake, where you can expect to see cormorants, ring-billed gulls, and elegant snowy egrets, as well as a variety of ducks and coots. From here, follow the trail through the developed part of the park back to your auto.
Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes, refer to the San Diego Natural History Museum website. Hike descriptions are also found in Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.
Kit Carson Park (Escondido)
3333 Bear Valley Parkway, Escondido
Driving directions: Take CA-163 north, merge with I-15, and continue toward Escondido. Exit I-15 at Via Rancho Parkway and head east. In about 0.2 mile, the road becomes Bear Valley Parkway. Continue for 0.9 mile, then turn left into Kit Carson Park. Follow Entrance Drive to Castenada Drive, make a left turn and continue driving to the adult-softball fields, then park.
Hiking length: 2 miles out and back. Allow one hour.
Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss: Minimal. Leashed dogs and bicycles allowed.