Hollenbeck Canyon (San Diego)

  • Level: easy (Beginner level: challenging)
  • Length: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation: 774 ft. gain
  • Type: lollipop loop
  • Open: all year
  • Permit: n/a
  • Google map: “Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area”

My favorite trail when I’m visiting my family in San Diego. It’s only twenty minutes from their house, but the quiet, desert farmland makes it feel far away. The particular route I like to take makes a lollipop loop (mostly an out and back with a short loop in the middle), but there are many trails in the area if you want to piece your own creation together. Apparently, in winter, which hardly exists in San Diego, it can be luscious and green with waterfalls, wildflowers and actual creek crossings. I’ve never seen it like this, though I’ve gone at different times of the year.

Some words of caution, this is desert. Watch for snakes and other dangerous critters and bring tons of water. There’s a beautiful oak grove near the beginning, but it’s otherwise very exposed. On an extra hot day, I’d probably skip this one.

Honestly, I had a hard time finding accurate directions online for the route I take, so this is roughly it. I may be off on the mileage a bit, but with the pictures, you’ll be good. From the parking area, stay on the main trail for just under two miles. You’ll pass through an oak grove and over a couple of creek crossings (usually dry) and twist and turn a little, but stay on the most obvious path unless you’re choosing your own adventure. When you come up on the big red dirt washes, skip that left side road/trail (that will be your return route on the lollipop) and keep walking a bit more through the gorgeous canyon. You’ll eventually come up on another left turn next to a stately, scraggly tree on the right (picture below). Take the trail to the left and climb steeply for about 400 yards to a dirt road. You’ll descend for a bit and then veer left where it sort of ambles up and down a little bit. You may start seeing things that look familiar as you approach the main trail again. Turn right back onto the main trail to get back to your car.

You’ll come up on this at the 0.5 mile mark. Turn right.
This is a good shot of where the you’ll skip the road/trail to the left, which will become your return route. Can you believe these scenes?!
The scraggly tree on the right where you’ll want to turn left to start the lollipop loop. Get ready to climb!
It’s steep, but it’s short.
The “road” after the climb. I was dying over this gorgeousness. It’s not usually so green.
After the road veers left. You’ll amble a little before it meets up again with the main trail. Turn right to get back to your car.
The gorgeous oak grove. Thankful for the rains!

More photos:


Don’t pick the sage no matter how tempting and beautiful and delicious-smelling it is! It’s a sacred plant and the trendiness of smudging means it’s becoming scarce.

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