One of the most popular parks in San Diego is Torrey Pines State Reserve. The park is home to the rarest pine tree in North America, the Torrey Pine; and also has a fantastic beach that stretches from La Jolla to the boundary of Del Mar. The reserve portion of the park also features a number of short hiking trails that travel through some of the park’s pine groves, and down to the beach. While all of these things and more make Torrey Pines State Reserve a great park and place to visit, the park is actually much larger than most visitors realize. As a matter of fact, the park encompasses the Reserve, the beach (Torrey Pines State Beach), the Los Penasquitos Lagoon, and the Torrey Pines Extension. Out of these four components, the most unknown area to most visitors and hikers is the Extension.
The Extension was added to the park in 1970 and contains some 197 additional acres of land. While the extension features a number of trails, including the Daughters of the American Revolution Trail, the Mar Scenic Trail, the Margaret Fleming Nature Trail, the trail with the easiest access and the best views is the Red Ridge Loop Trail, which is located on the Eastern boundary of the Extension.
Directions: This trail is located at the end of Mira Montana Drive in Del Mar. From the parking area, there is a .1 mile walk along a paved sidewalk to the trailhead. At the end of the sidewalk, the park boundary – and the trailhead are clearly marked by a large metal gate. From the gate, the out-and-back loop begins under a canopy of Torrey Pines. After the initial tree-lined section, the trail provides excellent views to the West of the Extension, the Lagoon, and the Pacific Ocean. After a sixth of a mile, the trail reaches its terminus and turn around point on the edge of the Red Ridge. From here, there is an excellent view of some of the eroded sandstone featured in both the Reserve and the local area, as well as great views of the Reserve proper. This spot also provides a perspective of how California looked before Europeans arrived; as well as great views of the local area, including Carmel Valley along with points East and South. From the edge of Red Ridge, the trail then loops back around to the gate over the course of a sixth of a mile for an easy 1/3 of a mile roundtrip distance.
Tips: The scenery around Red Ridge is reminiscent of another eroded sandstone area in the park, Broken Hill; and Red Ridge is by far, the best viewpoint in the Extension. Although Red Ridge is closer to human habitation than the Reserve itself, it is a place that is not well known. Correspondingly, it is a great spot to find solitude, clarity, watch wildlife and see the sun set. At 1/3 of a mile roundtrip, it is a hike that most, if not all people can do as well, and is a great spot to introduce visitors to the wilderness features of San Diego county.