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.
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.
- 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.