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Mission Trails Regional Park

I remember the first time I showed up, early on a Saturday morning, parking by Old Mission Dam and having no plan but to explore a new area to me in San Diego. This was a while ago, but the immediate draw I felt to the area has been strong ever since. As I made my way down, out of the parking lot and towards the San Diego River I was met with fresh air and the good company of nature and wildlife fully surrounding me. I set out, eventually ending up at the top of North Fortuna mountain and looking out over the greater San Diego area. This was a true testament to the beauty of the park. Even the most novice hikers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy their time here with a wide range of activities and difficulty levels.

The park as a whole has so much to offer that you will surely find some friendly faces somewhere along the way!

Only 8 miles away from downtown San Diego, Mission Trails is the perfect escape for the city dweller in the area. Making you feel as though you have been transported hours away, it’s only when you make your way to any number of the peaks that reside in the park and look out over the Skyline of San Diego and the bay area do you realize that you are still in your backyard. With a total of 8,000 acres of land, 60 trails, boating, camping, equestrian areas and nearly 200 climbing routes, Mission Trails Regional Park is the perfect San Diego getaway! One of my favorite things about this place are all the amazing trails I can get out on and enjoy. From early morning to evening walks, my favorite hikes of the area start with the Fortuna mountain region. The first time visiting the park I started at the Old Mission Dam trail head, made my way over the San Diego River and eventually found myself standing on North Fortuna peak. A nice intermediate hike that takes you along the river where if you visit in the early months of the year you may see a force of flowing water! Making your way up to the saddle that sits between North and South Fortuna you have the option to journey to either peak. Both of which will give you spectacular views of the park, surrounding areas and even the San Diego skyline on a clear day! If you are looking for an easier more relaxing walk, checkout Grasslands loop. Venturing out through the grasslands, immediately northeast of Old Mission Dam, this route offers wide open views and hardly any elevation gain.

Climber’s loop, open to the public for hiking, will give you access to some extremely fun climbing routes. Plenty of top rope, sport and trad climbs to have some fun on, this area is definitely a great area for beginners to learn and advanced climbers to sharpen their skills. The plethora of top rope routes have proven to be perfect for practicing my rope soloing techniques and getting out close to home. Arriving at the trail is also really easy. Either parking along Father Junipero Serra Trail (enter from the visitor center side) or parking by the visitor center and walking in. The loop, if started directly from the roadside parking on Father Juniper Serra Trail, is one mile and moderately difficult. If you were to arrive before the gates open at 8AM and walk down to Climber’s loop you only add half of a mile on your way in. Once you make your way up to where the climbing begins, be sure to stay on the designated trail. Especially important for hikers to pay attention to signs indicating climber only areas. When a hiker unfamiliar with the safety risks of being in a crag setting comes into one, it puts the safety and lives of climbers at risk.

Whether unintentionally distracting a belayer or knocking rocks loose that fall down and hit climbers at lower elevations. It can be extremely dangerous for people unfamiliar with climbing and the proper etiquette to wander through the area. These signs are useful to climbers too. My first couple times out climbing here I used them to mark certain areas and maintain a general understanding of where the established trails are and how to navigate to different routes. Another great resource for climbers exploring this area is Mountain Project [].

If you are looking for a quiet and secluded area to spend the night in your camper, tent or adventure van, you have to checkout Kumeyaay Lake Campground. Located just south of the Old Mission Dam parking lot. With 46 sites available, you will find yourself tied into the network to trails in the park. The first time I came out to stay at the park was last summer. Admittedly it was a scorcher the weekend I arrived and without hookups, this could deter some patrons from making a reservation.

Being mindful of weather, this is a wonderful place to take the family and they even have some really fun events! The first Friday of every month the San Diego Astronomers Association meets at the visitors lot at the campground. Volunteers ranging from amateur to professional astronomers bring out their telescopes and allow you a chance to see the stars up close and personal. Free of charge this is an educational and amazing way to spend your Friday! For reservation information head over to;jsessionid=eg67fal4sssu8inu6qxw9i6&interactive_map_id=1

Hiking, climbing, camping and so much more! How much more? Well, if you’re looking for some lake fun on a boat or kayak, Lake Murray is the place to send it. Open seven days a week, you can access this area from sunrise to sunset. Fishing is also allowed here on the lake and is stocked with bass, trout, crappie, bluegill and catfish. The concessions stand is perfect for refreshments or those of you who forgot to get a license before loading the rods into the boat.

For those of you like me who love equine, you will find a couple areas here that were made with the horseman in mind. The West Sycamore and East Fortuna staging areas offer the opportunity to get your pony out in nature and enjoy a beautiful day together. With hitchposts and established corrals, these areas give you the chance to stay for the day and relax, take in the sights and unwind from the stresses of our day to day lives in the city.

Mission Trails Regional Park has been supporting sustainable recreation for almost 50 years, but what was the park like before we preserved it’s natural lands? The park and surrounding areas of San Diego have a rich history of indigenous people utilizing the land for survival for nearly 10,000 years. Dating back to B.P. 8,000 the San Dieguito people were the first culture we have evidence of living in the area. Residing in the greater San Diego area for roughly 5,000 years their predecessors were the La Jollan people. Believed to have assimilated with the culture of San Dieguito natives, the La Jollan culture had some differences in living. For instance, the San Diguito people were believed to be big game hunters. Settling on knolls overlooking the river, this provided them an advantage to spot game and hunt for survival. The La Jollan culture was more of a small game, nuts and fruits gathering culture. This can be seen through the way in which the La Jolla people built their tools in a hastier manner.

The park has preserved the natural landscape and gives you a look into what natural San Diego was like before the traffic and development made it's way here.

You can walk the trails, enjoying views of native plants and animals as you get transported through time and immerse yourself into a living, breathing natural history museum. Posting educational signage of the native people will get you in touch with your wilder side as you sit and touch the same mortar in the granite slabs that the Kumeyaay used to prepare their food. With factoids about the importance of grasslands you will also learn the troubling truth about how we have lost 99% of these areas in California.

One of the biggest goals of the park is maintaining and conserving these areas. It is also important for them to educate the public on how to interact with them in ways that are sustainable to rebuilding what we have lost for a better future. Sadly this history shows greed, war and industrialization of the natural state of San Diego. However, the goal of Mission Trails Regional park is to provide us a look into that history, teach us about sustainability and overall be a voice for a world that needs protecting. The team here and everyone that comes to donate their time and help are who make this little piece of natural history available for our enjoyment. If you feel inclined to help, they would be more than happy to have you join the team!

There are numerous volunteer opportunities throughout the park. From working in the the visitor center to leading interpretive walks on the beautiful trails, you can get out and get involved. Checkout the volunteer opportunities here!

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