San Diego has it all – beach hikes, desert hikes, mountain hikes, even hikes in the foothills. With all of the hiking present in the county, sometimes it’s hard to decide both where in the county one will go; and when to visit. One place that’s striking year-round is a place that’s a “newer” trail network – Hollenbeck Canyon. In 2001, the California Department of Fish and Game acquired 3,500 acres of land; and in 2002, opened half of it to the public in a series of hiking trails. Since the area has opened in 2002, it has become a popular area for residents of Southeastern San Diego county to hike and run at. Despite its popularity, Hollenbeck Canyon is also a great place to find some quiet solitude among the oak trees.
Directions: Hollenbeck Canyon is located five miles to the Southeast of Jamul. From Jamul, follow Interstate 94 South to Honey Springs Road. Turn left (East) onto Honey Springs Road, and follow it for .1 miles. From the turnoff, the California Department of Fish and Game parking area will be readily apparent. On weekends, the parking area does fill to near capacity; but there are usually open spaces toward the back of the lot. The trailhead for Hollenbeck Canyon leaves directly from the parking lot and for the first one third of a mile (1/3), heads slightly uphill across a meadow, which depending on the season, may be full of dry grass, or, full of spring wildflowers. Irrespective of what season it is, this portion of the hike provides great views of the valley below and the smaller mountains of the area.
After this initial segment, the trail heads down into Hollenbeck Canyon proper, which is hidden from view from the parking area and during the trail. From the rise, you can see Hollenbeck Canyon, and more importantly, you can see the lush growth that is present in the lower canyon. This stand of trees in the early portion of the canyon is one of many things that make this hike special. Follow the trail down into the trees, and you will soon find yourself at a trail junction. At this point, you can either elect to follow the trail North, across a grassy meadow, or you can elect to follow the trail East, along the banks of Jamul Creek. If you head North, you will be following the Hollenbeck Canyon loop; which will eventually wrap around and bring you back through Hollenbeck Canyon (the initial Eastern choice at the signpost). This is a longer hike, and depending on which foot trail you follow, could be anywhere from four to twelve miles roundtrip.
Alternatively, if you stay in Hollenbeck Canyon proper (the Eastern choice at the signpost), you will have the option of two hikes: a) an out and back hike, running between two and five miles; or b) the Hollenbeck Canyon Loop described above. While there is nothing wrong with the Loop hike, the out-and-back approach offers visitors a relaxing, tranquil stroll through the oak grove. Even though the creek in Hollenbeck Canyon flows seasonally, it generally has water present even during the summer months. This segment of the trail offers the casual hiker many opportunities to stop, rest, and in some cases, picnic in the shade and quiet of the whispering oaks. After hiking for one and one half miles (1.5) from the parking area through Hollenbeck Canyon proper, there is a foot trail that heads North to the foundation (ruins) of a cottage. While this is an interesting historical spot, the best area in Hollenbeck Canyon can be found by following the trail to its Eastern termination point, at the boundary of the preserve.
From the cabin turnoff, the trail winds along Hollenbeck Canyon and ascends slightly before descending down toward an old fireroad running North and South. Before descending, there is a fantastic view of a potential waterfall during spring that feeds the creek, or a dryfall during the lean and dry summer months, along with Lyons Peak and the other small surrounding peaks of Southeastern San Diego County. If you are attempting a longer version of the Hollenbeck Canyon Loop, you will want to follow the old fireroad back and around; or you can return the way you came.
Tips: As you can see from my intentionally vague references above, this is an area that does have both established hiking trails, and foot trails, and fire access roads that can lead to a short day of hiking, a medium day of hiking, or a long day of adventure, or days of adventure. Do note that during the summer months, this area can be quite hot, so plan accordingly, and be sure to bring plenty of water. Also, if you are interested in exploring the area, as many of the foot trails do, try and bring a map or GPS in order to avoid getting lost.