17 Dog-Friendly Hikes in San Diego

Ziggy
September 8, 2022

San Diego experiences over 260 sunny days a year — almost a whole two months more than the average American city. That’s good news for the people (and their four-legged family members) that call this place home! If you live in San Diego or are just visiting this oceanside getaway with your furry companion, you probably want to be outdoors as much as possible. Luckily, this region’s mountainous terrain, lush canyons, and pristine beaches combine to deliver endless opportunities to go exploring on foot. To take advantage of everything the city offers, we’ve compiled a list of the best dog-friendly hiking trails near you.

San Diego’s dog walking trails can be found all over, from Carlsbad to Chula Vista. Give the closest one to you a try, or travel around to test out a few, and then who knows? You might just find your next favorite place to go hiking with your pup. Just remember to follow marked guidelines like leash requirements — many times it’s for their protection! Here are the top dog-friendly hikes in San Diego, listed from A to Z.

Blue Sky Canyon Trail

  • Address: 16275 Espola Rd, Poway, CA 92064
  • Type of Hike: 5.3-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 656 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

The Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is a sprawling 700-acre canyon near Poway High School, with the trailhead and parking lot located off Espola Road. The trails on this reserve are open to the public free of charge, which is part of the reason why the Blue Sky Canyon Trail is so popular with runners, bird watchers, and dog walkers. This loop will take approximately two hours to complete, as you take in the sights around Lake Poway. The reserve is home to all kinds of wildlife, including coyotes and rattlesnakes, so not only is leashing your dog required but it’s also advisable.

Coast to Crest Trail

  • Address: Coast to Crest Trail, Del Mar, CA 92014
  • Type of Hike: 5.5-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 55 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

The Coast to Crest Trail can be found along the San Dieguito River near the oceanside communities of Solana Beach, Cardiff, and Encinitas. This well-maintained trail is wide enough for bikes to pass, but their presence requires dogs to be on a leash at all times, except at the Del Mar Dog Beach. While the freeway does cut through it at one point, this is an ideal walk since it’s flat. The Coast to Crest Trail provides a little bit of everything in the way of wild animals, bird watching, and even doggy bags!

Dog playing fetch on beach

Cowles Mountain Trail

  • Address: 7001 Golfcrest Dr, San Diego, CA 92119
  • Type of Hike: 3.0-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 908 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

The Cowles Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hiking destinations in San Diego due to its proximity to a number of neighborhoods and freeways. Its parking lot (with public restrooms) can be found at the intersection of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road near Lake Murray. At peak times, it's not unusual for parking overflow to run into the street. You’ll be going straight uphill for most of the way, but the summit will reward you with some of the best panoramic views found within the city limits.

Views of San Diego from Cowles Mountain Trail

Fiesta Island Southern Loop

  • Address: 1590 E Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109
  • Type of Hike: 1.9-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 26 ft.
  • Leash Required: No
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

If you want to provide your four-legged friend with a memorable experience, look no further than the perfectly named Fiesta Island Park — a peninsula for picnics, parties, and pooches! Your dog will be having the time of their life thanks to an easy loop, accessible bay access, and plenty of space to run, which amounts to basically a self-contained dog park surrounded by water.

Highland Valley Trail

  • Address: Highland Valley Trail, San Diego, CA 92128
  • Type of Hike: 3.7-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 232 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

Located at the intersection of Highland Valley and Pomerado Road near Escondido, the Highland Valley Trail is surprisingly quiet for being so close to a suburban neighborhood. The area is fairly exposed, so if it’s a hot day, you’ll want to go in either the early morning or late afternoon. However, there’s very little elevation change, so it’ll only take about an hour or so to complete. Rattlesnakes and coyotes have been spotted here, so we highly encourage you to adhere to the leash guidelines.

Iron Mountain Trail

  • Address: 14847-14909 CA-67, Poway, CA 92064
  • Type of Hike: 5.9-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 1,125 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Second only in popularity to Cowles Mountain, you don’t have to be an IronMan athlete to trek to the second-highest peak in Poway — although it might help. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the trailhead near the traffic light at Poway Road and Route 67 when you come across the impossible-to-miss, ranch-style wooden gateway bearing the words “Iron Mountain.” After ascending to the summit, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see Mt. Woodson and the Catalina Islands. It’s very rocky, so we suggest bringing a pair of good, sturdy boots, as well as a backpack with plenty of water, and maybe even sunscreen since there’s no shade.

Entrance to Iron Mountain Trail in Poway, California

Lake Hodges Overlook Trail

  • Address: 8559-8777 Harmony Grove Rd, Escondido, CA 92029
  • Type of Hike: 7.3-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 1,423 ft.
  • Leash Required: Sometimes
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Found within the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve’s 784 acres near Escondido, the Lake Hodges Overlook is the perfect out-and-back trail to really tire out your pooch. You’ll love the plentiful views of the Olivenhain Reservoir as you walk along the Way Up Trail. If you go on a weekday, well-behaved dogs are permitted off-leash at the top of the trail; the off-leash point is marked with a sign. On the weekends, however, dogs must be on a leash at all times. This is a longer walk, so it’s advisable to bring a backpack with water for you and your companion.

Cacti surrounding Lake Hodges Overlook Trail in Escondido

Lopez Canyon Trail

  • Address: 4300 Sorrento Valley Blvd, San Diego, CA 92121
  • Type of Hike: 4.2-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 209 ft.
  • Leash Required: No
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

Check out this 4.2-mile out-and-back trail through the Lopez Canyon, which is right beside Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail — Spanish for “little cliffs.” You’ll find parking at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve’s West Entrance, near the iconic Torrey Pines Golf Course on the other side of the freeway. This is one of the better off-leash dog hikes in the area, but beware — depending on the season, an abundance of ticks have been reported, so you’ll want to do a thorough search when you get home.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail

  • Address: 4300 Sorrento Valley Blvd, San Diego, CA 92121
  • Type of Hike: 6.8-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 157 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

At Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve’s West Entrance, the two trailheads are conveniently located next to one another and easily marked. Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail is more of a walk than a traditional hike, but it does take you through varied terrain and past a modest waterfall on its almost seven-mile loop. Lopez Canyon is a smaller offshoot of the Los Peñasquitos Canyon, which gets decent foot traffic, so it’s a nice alternative if you’re looking for more solitude. Or combine both trails for a longer walk, just remember that dogs need to be leashed on the latter.

Natural scenery around dog-friendly trail in San Diego

Mount Woodson Trail

  • Address: Mount Woodson Trail, Poway, CA 92064
  • Type of Hike: 7.4-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 2,109 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

One of the more popular trails on this list for photo ops and beautiful vista views, the Mount Woodson Trail is a somewhat strenuous hike to Potato Chip Rock, named for its distinctive shape. Parking at the trailhead near Lake Poway is free during the week and costs $10 on the weekend for non-Poway residents — but thankfully there’s a decent-sized lot and public restrooms. Since there is no shade and the incline is steep and narrow at parts, it’s recommended you bring a backpack with at least one gallon of water per person, and with enough water left over to also satisfy a thirsty doggo. Start early, and expect a line to get your picture taken on Potato Chip Rock.

Famous potato chip rock in San Diego

Ocean Beach Park Trail

  • Address: Sam Merrill Trail, Altadena, CA 91001
  • Type of Hike: 2.3-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 13 ft.
  • Leash Required: No
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

Are you and your companion looking for a nice, flat expanse of surf and sand to play beside other dogs sans leash? If so, this 2.3-mile loop and dog beach near SeaWorld in Ocean Beach is the perfect place to let your pup expel some pent-up energy in a safe setting. With the one-two combo of a walk and playtime, chances are good that you’ll both start thinking of this park as heaven pretty soon. And with so many dogs blissfully happy — tongues out, running to and fro into the waves together — it might as well be.

Piedras Pintadas Interpretive Trail

  • Address: 19140 W Bernardo Dr, San Diego, CA 92128
  • Type of Hike: 3.7-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 295 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

Located near the Casa de las Campanas retirement community and Rancho Bernardo Dog Park in the northern hills of San Diego, the Piedras Pintadas Trail (Spanish for “painted rocks”) is a nice loop around the shores of Lake Hodges. Depending on the season and the amount of rainfall, you’ll come across a waterfall, plus many different kinds of bird life. Take note: dogs do need to be leashed on this trail.

  

Views of a body of water from Piedras Pintadas dog-friendly hike

Ruffin Canyon Trail

  • Address: 3201-3299 Ruffin Rd, San Diego, CA 92123
  • Type of Hike: 2.6-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 344 ft.
  • Leash Required: No
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

The Ruffin Canyon Trail near Taft Middle School in Serra Mesa is all about convenience. If you’re looking for a wilderness experience without leaving the city limits, this easy hike — just a short drive from the city center — is for you. It is a bit rough and overgrown, with the majority of the hike being over large river rock that tends to be slippery, so you’ll definitely want to bring good hiking boots, but the nice part is that your dog will enjoy being off-leash.

San Dieguito Park Trail

  • Address: 1628 Lomas Santa Fe Dr, Del Mar, CA 92014
  • Type of Hike: 3.1-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 360 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

San Dieguito Park is a favorite amongst locals living around Del Mar, as it offers family-friendly amenities like playgrounds, picnic areas, and public restrooms, plus baseball and basketball facilities. It also has about three miles of dog-friendly trails, so it’s a great choice for a family outing.

Stanley Peak Loop

  • Address: 2256 La Honda Dr, Escondido, CA 92027
  • Type of Hike: 6.3-mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 1,095 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

To get to the Stanley Peak Loop, you must drive into Daley Ranch, a stunning nature preserve found in Escondido — featuring over 25 miles of backcountry trails situated on 3,150 acres of historic ranch land. The trailhead for the Sage Trail begins near the parking lot off La Honda Drive. Though it’s only a moderately strenuous hike to the summit of Stanley Peak, it takes on average three hours to complete, so be sure to give yourself (and your pupper) plenty of time and water to complete. This is one of the better trails for backpacking with dogs in California; however, these trails are shared with equestrian riders, so leashing your dog is required.

Sunset Cliffs Park Trail

  • Address: Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, Ladera St, San Diego, CA 92107
  • Type of Hike: 1-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 95 ft.
  • Leash Required: No
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy

If you’re looking for a quick hike that can be accomplished in under 30 minutes, the Sunset Cliffs Park Trail is the one for you. This short and sweet walk is situated near Point Loma Nazarene University, and as the name suggests, its beautiful scenery — including tide pools — is accentuated by a nice sunset at the end of the day. We have a feeling you and your pup will enjoy the ocean breeze and the coastal views.

Sunset by the beach near San Diego

Tecolote Canyon Trail

  • Address: 5180 Tecolote Rd, San Diego, CA 92110
  • Type of Hike: 6.7-mile out-and-back
  • Elevation Gain: 419 ft.
  • Leash Required: Yes
  • Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Situated in the middle of the Bay Park, Clairemont Mesa West, and Linda Vista neighborhoods, the Tecolote Canyon has a relatively flat 6.7-mile out-and-back trail — with a few creek crossings if there has been adequate rain. Dogs are required to be leashed, and there’s moderate traffic on the trail due to its proximity to a number of neighborhoods. It’s also located near the University of San Diego.

Groom Your Pup After Hiking in San Diego

Hiking is a great way to expend some energy, but a dirty coat after a long day on a dusty trail can quickly sour the experience. Avoid the hassle of placing a squirming wet doggy in the bathtub by booking an appointment with our grooming specialists at Barkbus. Trust us — we’re pros when it comes to making sure your pup is looking and feeling like their best self after a hot day outside!

WRITTEN BY
Ziggy

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