Last weekend I wanted to go hiking…I wanted to feel like I was far away but not have to deal with the driving that actually entails far away. I pulled out Google maps for San Diego County and zoomed out looking for green spots on the map. That is when I remembered the Wilderness Garden Preserve in Pala. It is just off of the 76 East and I feel, little known unless you live near. This time of year is one of the best times of the year to come–they close for the month of August, partially due to the heat in that time of year.
The park is the oldest county park in San Diego County and trails are very well-maintained and of an easy-moderate level. It is a great place to bring your family and you can also bring your dog. Just be sure to bring plenty of water for all if you take them out on the trail.
While we were out there we saw many types of birds, hawks, loons, bullfrogs and even what looked like some type of praying mantis.
The preserve also has some interesting history as a grist mill and there are some structures and information at the Ranger Station. In addition, is some Native American history from the Luiseno Tribe who had a metate located along the trail with a marker.
One of the nicest things about this park, however, was that even on a Sunday, a holiday, no less, it felt very secluded and private. There were very few people when we came in the middle of the day and there is plenty of room to spread out with over 700 acres of park space.
The Wilderness Gardens Preserve is open from 8 AM to 4 PM, Thursday through Monday only. Parking is $3. It is worth the drive this time of year and provides many attractions and natural beauty that is unique to this area.
The mountains amidst evergreen fir trees and the smell of pine are where I feel most at home. The cool, crisp mountain air and alpine temperature is a rare find in San Diego, but not impossible to find. If you head east on the 8 freeway, about 50 miles, a turn off from Alpine and you will head north into the mountains to the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area,a part of the Cleveland National Forest. This area has a lot of things to see and do from excellent mountain biking trails, thanks in part to a strong collaborative relationship between the SDMBA and the park rangers, to hiking on the Pacific Crest trail, to camping at several different campgrounds, to many other recreational activities. The peak of Mt. Laguna reaches 6,378′ at Cuyapaipe peak and you will feel it, with the sound of wind blowing the tops of the trees and the thinner air making your climb even more strenuous. This area can be very popular so plan to arrive early and invest in an Adventure Pass for the year since you will want to come back. Pack a picnic for the day since the options are limited, but look intriguing, like Pine House Cafe’ and Tavern and Blue Jay lodge. There is a beautiful picnic site that overlooks the Pacific Crest Trail as it meanders along the hillside that descends into the Anza-Borrego desert. Views for miles as blue jays and woodpeckers pay you a visit in the treetops overhead.
For my visit, we spent the morning mountain biking around Mt. Laguna meadow. This is a solid intermediate to beginner ride. For the more adventurous, many ride up to Noble Canyon or shuttle in, since it is supposed to have some thrilling switchbacks. A local told us that some mountain bikers have built some ramps and jumps along what I believe may be the Gatos Spur, see this map link here.
There are some interesting historical sites to see in the Laguna Mountain area as well, just riding around we spotted what looked to be some Indian grinding rocks (see one of the pictures I posted), there are some remnants of the gold mining settlers and pioneers interspersed through the area as well.
I have yet to go up there when snow falls because of the mass hysteria of hundreds upon thousands of families piling into their minivans to give their kids their taste of San Diego sledding and snow, however there is always that option at certain times of the year as well.