Hiking in Tecolote Canyon Natural Park

by on June 7, 2013 · 5 comments

in Culture, Environment, Ocean Beach

IMAG0583Natural canyon beauty just 3 miles from Ocean Beach

By John P. Anderson

A weekly column dedicated to sharing the best sights and activities in San Diego at the best price – free! We have a great city and you don’t need to break the bank to experience it.

  1. Address: 5180 Tecolote Road San Diego, CA 92110 (Morena / Bay Park). This is the main entrance and location of the Visitor Center although there are other access points to the park (see map)
  2. Best For: Peaceful walking, bird watching, casual strolling, jogging
  3. Contact Information: Website, Visitor Center phone – (858) 581-9944

Nestled in a coastal canyon just north-east of the intersection of Interstate 5 and Interstate 8 is the Tecolote Canyon Natural Park.

Despite being so near to these heavily trafficked freeways Tecolote Canyon is a peaceful, quiet place and a preserved open space in the heart of the city that presents visitors with a view to the native state of the area.

Tecolote Canyon mapWork is ongoing to protect this open space from pollution and development and planting native plants to further complete the picture of the native state of the land. The park was dedicated on April 1, 1978 after being purchased by the City of San Diego.

Tecolote CanyonThe canyon and park also mark the borders of some San Diego neighborhoods. Per the official website “It divides, by its southern half, the communities of Clairemont and Linda Vista and, by its northern half, the west and east areas of Clairemont.”

The Visitor Center on Tecolote Road has very nice restrooms to start or end your trip, as well as water fountains. Adjacent to the Visitor Center is an educational area with information about native plants and animals as well as the Kumeyaay Indians that inhabited the area long before Europeans arrived. There is ample parking at the Visitor Center for those arriving by vehicle.

The park has approximately 6.5 miles of trails that are suitable for walking, jogging, and mountain biking. I have not traversed all of the trails in the park; my typical route is an out and back trip for the first 1.25 miles of the trail that starts at the Visitor Center. This area is very flat and an easy and enjoyable stroll. It’s a bit of a challenge for the toddler that accompanies me but she’s a tough cookie and can typically handle it. After the first portion the trail becomes quite hilly (as it runs along the Tecolote Canyon Golf Course) and on many days is hot and sunny.

The University of San Diego sits on top of the south rim along the trail from the park entrance and on my visits there have been many collegians enjoying a jog. I have also encountered bird watchers and couples simply enjoying some time outdoors together. Although I have spotted many people in the canyon I have yet to find an owl – the animal the canyon and park (Tecolote) are named for. This is one of my favorite short hikes in San Diego primarily due to the proximity to my home. I also enjoy it for the secluded feel that the tall canyon walls give to those traversing the paths below.

I hope you have a good visit to Tecolote Canyon as well.

This was originally posted at San Diego Free Press.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Cross June 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Yeah, but you didn’t mention the natural gas pipelines running underneath the whole thing. It smells like raw sewage.


avatar John Anderson June 9, 2013 at 11:18 am

John – I’ve noticed the pipelines / signage but hadn’t noticed the smell before. Maybe my nose isn’t up to standards these days.


avatar John Cross June 9, 2013 at 12:57 pm

It might just be at certain times, I’m not sure. It’s been at least moderately pungent every time I’ve gone. It doesn’t necessarily stop me from going there, but it would definitely be unpleasant to those with more sensitive noses.


avatar Parent March 14, 2015 at 6:23 am

Yes this place stinks most of the time and has for as long as we have been going there which is ten years . We try to take our kids to the rec center but always have to leave because of the smell . Every one just acts like its not there. I don’t understand . It’s disgusting . The gas station next to the shooting range on morena is the same way for a while now too and now my house on nashville gets a sewer smell at the same time every day . Thank god it is not all day. I would definitely have to sell and move . I’m assuming there is a pump station near by and is set on a timer.


avatar Geoffrey Rogers March 10, 2016 at 1:51 pm

The best guess as to species of owl the canyon was named after is the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia). There are several things that support this. One translation of “tecolote” is “a small owl with long legs.” This fits burrowing owl nicely as they are a small owl, and standing on the ground as they usually do, they can look long-legged. Up until the mid-20th century these owls were common in coastal San Diego wherever there was a patch of open ground (San Diego County Bird Atlas data). Cattle grazing in the canyon would have perpetuated the open ground preferred by the species. They are ground nesters and will not nest in areas of tall grass or shrubs as this enables predators to approach closely. They are diurnal and active during daylight hours implying they were seen by people frequently. Although nocturnal owl species (barn and great horned) are occasionally detected today it seems less likely that the canyon would be named after them since they feed farther up the food chain and thus are fewer in number and less frequently seen. A medium-sized arboreal species, the long-eared owl, was reported from the canyon in the 1960’s but has long-since disappeared.


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