On many shorter trails, I hear various derogatory comments from my fellow hikers, such as “This isn’t a hike, it’s a stroll” or my favorite, “You call this a hike”. Whenever I hear these comments, I always am tempted to pull these people to the side and ask, “So, you were with Edmund Hillary when he summited Everest then?” or utter any number of other pithy comments regarding their negativity. Sure, shorter trails may be easier, but they serve a great purpose: they allow you to enjoy being in nature. That for me – being in nature – is what hiking is about. Sure, there may be theoretical distinctions between strolling, walking, and hiking, but really, who needs to have these academic discussions when outside. Even more importantly, these trails provide a great introduction to the wilderness to innumerable people – young, old, and everyone in between. In my experience, I find that people ultimately enjoy the wilderness more – and appreciate it more when they are introduced to it slowly, versus throwing them into the fire on a fifteen mile uphill trek. A perfect example of an introductory trail is the Botanical Trail in the Elfin Forest, it is simple; but it has something for every level of hiker.
Directions: The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve is located in Escondido, California. The reserve does a great job of providing interactive directions HERE, so there is no need for me to recreate the wheel. The trail leaves directly from the parking area; and returns to the parking area, as it is a loop trail. However, do note that the Elfin Forest is a popular destination for San Diegans, and the parking area is somewhat small. If you are visiting the Elfin Forest on the weekend, there may not be parking available in the lot; but do note that there may be available street parking along Harmony Grove Road.
From the trailhead, the trail winds along the Escondido Creek, and there is a small area near the beginning that has great views of the creek. At this point, it is definitely worth noting that this trail is interactive – the reserve has placed markers along the trail that can be followed in one of two ways – by the paper trail guide that is present at the location, or online via this link HERE. This is a great way to learn about Southern Californian plants, and the local ecosystem of the reserve, and personally for me, I think that it’s great that this can be accessed on your smartphone while hiking – it’s a great way to be outside and learning all at the same time. After a short distance, the trail crosses over Escondido Creek, which, depending on the season, may be flowing high or low. Once you are across the creek, the trail passes through a grove of Coastal Live Oak, before heading uphill. While this section of uphill is not as steep as the nearby “Way Up Trail”, it will definitely get the blood pumping.
Once past the uphill portion, the trail intersects with the “Way Up Trail”, and heads back down to cross Escondido Creek over the reserve bridge. Total, the loop runs for 1.1 miles, and is easy to moderate, depending on your skill level; and as I noted above, is a great way to learn about Southern Californian plants.
Tips: The Reserve has a great, new, high-tech Visitor Center that is also located in the Parking Area; and this is a must-visit if it is your first time to the Reserve. Finally, if you know me, you know that I like the weird and strange rumors about places, and Elfin Forest is a place that has plenty of rumors – read more about that HERE.