La Orilla Trail, San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

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Start of the La Orilla Trail, San Elijo Reserve

Enclaves! San Diego is full of wilderness enclaves. You just need to know where to look. A couple months ago, I talked about Crest Canyon, and how it’s a great secret spot to hike or run. A couple miles up the road, there’s another great spot for a calming walk or trail run next to the San Elijo Lagoon. This lagoon is the keystone of the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve, which features over seven miles of hiking trails, and is slightly North of Solana Beach, and slightly South of Cardiff.

Directions: From Interstate 5, exit Lomas Santa Fe, and head East to Highland Road (this road will be marked by a 4-Way Stop Sign). On Highland, turn left. Follow Highland East/North-east for a short while; and then turn left (North) onto El Camino Real. The parking lot for the trailhead will be on the West side of the road slightly before a hairpin turn. (The Reserve provides a good set of directions on their webpage, which I’ve placed below). From the parking area, it is several feet to the start of the trail. To me, the first portion of the trail is like entering a mystical forest with its low hanging cottonwood branches. Shortly up the trail (less than .10 miles), you will find a hollowed out area with tree branches covering it; it looks like a home to an unknown animal – or a gateway to another land.

After that, you will be entering the riparian area of the trail, where you will see cattails, and if it’s been a wet year – or if it’s recently rained, like it had the other day when I hiked this trail, you’ll see standing water in La Orilla Creek. If it’s dry – or hasn’t rained, the only water you’re likely to see is the Lagoon itself.

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Riparian Portions of the La Orilla Trail The trail then meanders up some very slight hills, and then at .45 miles, arrives at the easement for the power lines above. At this point, you’ll have a variety of options – you can turn off onto some of the San Elijo Lagoon trails leading back into Solana Beach or you can continue West. Should you continue west, you’ll pass some free standing trees, some of which are Torrey Pines, and ultimately head along the Lagoon itself, under the Interstate 5, and toward the Coast. If you follow the trail to its end, you will arrive at the train tracks next to the Coast Highway just North of Solana Beach, which is directly across from Cardiff State Beach. The total distance from the trailhead to the Coast is 3.5 miles, one way, and is by and large, very flat. If you don’t decide to relax on the beach for a bit, the total round trip distance of this hike (or run) is seven miles. This trail is easy, and is for hikers of all skill levels.

Tips: At times, you will see people riding horses in and around the La Orilla trail near the El Camino Trailhead. If you are running the trail, be aware – and respectful of riders, so as not to dart around a corner, which will likely startle the horse(s). The section of trail that traverses under the Interstate 5 also has a narrow section of bridge; and if you are not paying attention, or you slip when running over it, you will end up in the Lagoon, and you will get wet. One last cautionary note about getting wet: when it rains, the trail becomes muddy in some places; and slippery in other places due to the high sand/clay content of the soil, and should you slip – you will get muddy and wet. Other than that, even though the area is fairly urban, this is a good spot to see deer, and sometimes, coyotes!

See you on the trail!