A view from the beginning of the trail
Martha’s Grove Trail is designated for one-way hiking only, so once you leave the parking lot, you are almost immediately climbing up a well-maintained trail. You get an expansive view of the Goodan Ranch in the valley below in this first section, which is predominated by coastal sage scrub. Make sure that you have plenty of water and sunscreen; there’s very little shade on the trail.
As you start up the trail, you are met with the sounds of many birds happily singing alongside the trail. California quail are common here, along with wrentits, California thrashers, and California towhees. In a wet year, such as 2019, the wildflowers are abundant and every turn in the trail brings an even more colorful display. On a spring day, the hiker is most likely to see yellow and white pincushions, copperleaf (more commonly seen in the Anza Borrego desert), sun cups, several species of phacelia, snapdragons, and many more.
If there is water, look for red-spotted toads
After a brief rise, the trail becomes more variable with short sections of rises and drops. After passing over a saddle, the view switches to the east where you can see wide open hillsides which appear relatively undisturbed. Now the trail starts a fairly steep drop down to Martha’s Grove. This section of the trail, while well-maintained, is comprised of “tall” steps and decomposed granite, which can be quite slippery on slopes when it is dry. The slope levels out as you approach the bottom of the hill. Here you will find deer weed, black sage, laurel sumac, golden yarrow, checkerbloom, and chaparral yucca, among many others.
As you approach the grove of trees, you will see a nice green oasis. Some of the oaks are survivors of the Cedar Fire in 2003. Unfortunately, many of the coast live oaks in this area have been killed by the golden spotted oak borer. In spite of the oak skeletons, there is abundant shade along the trail here provided by the willows. There may be the faint trickle of a stream in wetter years such as this. The wild roses are in abundance as well as red spotted toads hopping across the trail, so watch your step.
This grove of trees was named after a park ranger, Martha Harville, whose promising career was cut short by melanoma in 1988. Visitors can read a memorial to her here. As you leave the grove, the vegetation along the trail thins out, but still more flowers are there to greet you, including wide-throat monkeyflowers, splendid mariposa lilies, and canchalagua. Nearby, you can see morteros where native people ground acorns into flour.
Continuing down the trail, the hillsides start falling away to an open meadow where the trail comes to a crossroad. You have three options here. To the left is Cardiac Hill, straight across the trail leads down to the central part of Goodan Ranch and the ranger station. The hike described here takes a right turn and after a short distance, another right turn puts you on the main entry road, which will take you back to the parking lot in 1.1 miles. This area is mostly grasslands that are dominated by invasive non-natives such as filaree and brome grass as is common in areas that were once grazed by cattle. A few natives are still visible such as buckwheat and laurel sumac.
As you make your way towards the parking lot, the trail becomes steeper. In spite of the short length of this trail, you can get a good aerobic workout if you set and maintain a good pace going up the hill.
See the Roam-O-Rama column for June 6, 2012, on the Sycamore Canyon/Goodan Ranch (https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2012/jun/06/roam-sycamore-canyongoodan-ranch/) to learn more about this area.
Martha's Grove Loop Map
MARTHA’S GROVE LOOP (Sycamore Canyon Preserve)
Enjoy great views in diverse landscapes and habitats.
Driving directions: (Poway/Santee) From I-15 exit east on Poway Road. After 5 miles, turn right on Garden Road. Turn right on Sycamore Canyon Road and continue for 2.3 miles until you reach the parking lot at the end of the road. Hiking length: 2.8-mile loop. Difficulty: Moderately strenuous. Trekking poles can be useful. Elevation gain/loss of 325 feet. Bicycles, horses, and hikers allowed, although some places are challenging for bikes. There are numerous large steps and slippery decomposed granite on fairly steep slopes. No facilities.