The view of Batiquitos Lagoon from Denk Mountain.
  • The view of Batiquitos Lagoon from Denk Mountain.
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Denk Mountain is the unofficial name of the highest point in the City of Carlsbad. It may be a little presumptuous to call it a mountain, but at 1041 feet of elevation, it is high enough to offer dramatic views up and down the San Diego coast, especially west to where the Batiquitos Lagoon discharges into the Pacific. The name honors the Denk family, who once owned much of the land that is now the Rancho La Costa Preserve, which is owned and managed by a non-profit, the Center for Natural Lands Management (tax deductible donations are appreciated). If you are a mountain biker and don’t already know about these trails, you should definitely check it out. The preserve has over 6 miles of trails, some of which are very challenging. It can be a pleasant hike or trail run for anyone in moderately good physical condition. Many trails of varying difficulty lead to the peak. The route described here is only one of several possibilities.

The trails are open year-round from dawn to dusk, but the best times to go are mornings between January and June, preferably after a storm has left the area with clear air and perhaps some dramatic clouds. Warning: rattlesnakes live here. Also, it is a very active mountain biking area. While hikers have the right-of-way, you should do whatever you need to do to avoid a collision with a rapidly moving bicycle. There is no shade, and the hillside tends to face toward the sun. Bring trekking poles if you have them, as they will be useful at times.

Flowering spineshrub is in the buckthorn family

Flowering spineshrub is in the buckthorn family

From the trailhead at the intersection of Camino Junipero and Corte Romero, start hiking up the Switchbacks Trail 0.5 mile to a junction with the Connector Trail. The recommended route from here is a loop up the Connector Trail and the Mule Deer Trail, returning down from the peak via the Switchbacks Trail. This is a much easier and safer route going up than down it. You can hike the Switchbacks Trail down at a pace that allows you to more carefully observe the habitat you are traversing. If you decide to take the Swtichbacks Trail up, it will be a challenging nearly 2-mile hike.

Turn left on the Connector Trail to the junction with the Mule Deer Trail and turn right to hike up to the peak and return via the Switchbacks Trail. It is 0.57 mile to the peak via the Mule Deer Trail junction — the fastest, most direct route.

Both of these trails take you through coastal sage scrub habitat. The most common shrubs include black sage (Salvia melifera), California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), laurel sumac (Malosma laurina), deer weed (Acmispon glaber), and lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia). If you look very carefully or are just lucky to be there at the right time, you also may see common wildflowers such as purple owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta), caterpillar phacelia (Phacelia cicutaria), bee plant (Scrophularia californica), and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), as well as rarer plants such as large blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus texanus), spineshrub (Adolphia californica) and fringepod (Thysanocarpus curviceps).

DENK MOUNTAIN (Rancho La Costa Preserve)

Climb the highest mountain in Carlsbad for great coastal views.

Denk Mountain map

Denk Mountain map

  • Driving directions: Take I-5 north 26 miles to the Leucadia Boulevard exit in Encinitas. Turn right on Leucadia and continue northeast for about 5 miles. The name of the road changes, first to Olivenhain Road and then to Rancho Santa Fe, but stay the on it until you reach Camino Junipero, then turn right. In another 0.2 mile is Corte Romero. Park here near the trailhead. Hiking length: 4 miles in a cherry-stem loop. Allow 2 hours. Difficulty: Moderate, with some boulder hopping and a 541-foot elevation gain/loss. Leashed dogs and bicycles are permitted on trails. No facilities.
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mjvande March 20, 2019 @ 7:10 p.m.

Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1996: . It's dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don't have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else -- ON FOOT! Why isn't that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking....

A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it's not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

Mountain bikers also love to build new trails - legally or illegally. Of course, trail-building destroys wildlife habitat - not just in the trail bed, but in a wide swath to both sides of the trail! E.g. grizzlies can hear a human from one mile away, and smell us from 5 miles away. Thus, a 10-mile trail represents 100 square miles of destroyed or degraded habitat, that animals are inhibited from using. Mountain biking, trail building, and trail maintenance all increase the number of people in the park, thereby preventing the animals' full use of their habitat. See for details.

Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it's NOT!). What's good about THAT?

To see exactly what harm mountain biking does to the land, watch this 5-minute video:

In addition to all of this, it is extremely dangerous: .

For more information: .

The common thread among those who want more recreation in our parks is total ignorance about and disinterest in the wildlife whose homes these parks are. Yes, if humans are the only beings that matter, it is simply a conflict among humans (but even then, allowing bikes on trails harms the MAJORITY of park users -- hikers and equestrians -- who can no longer safely and peacefully enjoy their parks).

The parks aren't gymnasiums or racetracks or even human playgrounds. They are WILDLIFE HABITAT, which is precisely why they are attractive to humans.


elmoalso March 21, 2019 @ 10:50 a.m.

I'm not sure how to explain this to you mjvande, but use of an area isn't based on what YOU would feel is appropriate. In your rambling message you forgot to mention your arrest for attacking bicyclists with a saw in Berkeley. So, I'm just saying maybe you really aren't too credible. Take your hate and hit the road Jack


fROMOHIO March 21, 2019 @ 11:26 a.m.

In case anyone is interested in reading the details: Violence is never the answer.

Most cyclist are fine upstanding people. And some are irresponsible obnoxious jerks. Kind of like people who post comments on articles about access to trails in our collective backyards!


TheBigB March 21, 2019 @ 4:42 p.m.

I doubt that Mr. Vandeman has ever visited Carlsbad, save perhaps for driving through on I-5. What exactly is your interest here, mjtolle?



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