Over a month ago when a friend recommended hiking the Boulder Loop Trail at Daley Ranch, I’ll admit I had never heard of it. Little did I know in northeast Escondido is over 3,000 acres of natural land just waiting to be hiked. Settled by English immigrant Robert Daley in 1869, the ranch remained in the Daley family for over a century, with the City of Escondido purchasing the ranch in 1996 to preserve it as a natural habitat and a place for outdoor recreation.
For anyone who likes to hike, trail run, ride horses, rock climb, or just talk a walk in the wilderness, Daley Ranch is the place to experience all of the aforementioned. The hillsides are cloaked with coastal sage and chaparral, while the valleys offer ponds, oak woodlands, and grassy meadows in the spring. With at least 20 miles of trails and hiking possibilities, it was difficult to pick just one trail to cover — which is why you should look out for me to cover even more Daley Ranch trails in the near future! Hikers and mountain bikers looking for a good, rigorous hike that won’t take too long to complete should look no further than the Boulder Loop Trail.
Starting at the trailhead in the dirt parking lot off La Honda Drive, your journey will begin at the Daley Ranch gate and up the road toward the ranch house—a structure built in the 1920s and is now being restored. Immediately you will have the option to go right down a dirt path or follow the paved road ahead. Follow the paved road up the hill and down through an oak tree grove with views of some of the ponds that were once used for livestock grazing. Along the way you’ll see several markers pointing to plants including poison oak, mountain mahogany, deer weed, buckwheat, laurel sumac, golden brush as well as a coast live oak and an Engelmann oak.
You will pass two signs for the Boulder Loop trail. Avoid the first sign. The southern end of the Boulder Loop Trail is on the left about 0.7 miles from the parking lot. A marked post with the name “Boulder Loop” will come into view. This will be the second sign you pass for the Boulder Loop Trail, and I would recommend taking the second trail. If you take the first one, you will take an extremely steep fire road that will leave you completely breathless at the top, and not in a good way. The second trail begins with a steep loose section but is a much shorter climb with plenty of flat spots and ending with a downhill trek. Both routes will complete the 2.5-mile roundtrip loop so pick your poison.
The first part of the trail begins with a short ascent uphill on loose gravel. This ascent may seem grueling but when you reach the long descent at the end, you will forget you ever had to trek uphill at all.
Proceed up the moderately strenuous uphill jaunt. You will begin to see boulders in the distance as the approach the Cougar Ridge Trail intersecting the Boulder Loop Trail. The Cougar Ridge Trail ins 2.8 miles in length and takes you to the north end of Daley Ranch, ending at the Cougar Pass entrance to the park. Continue along the Boulder Loop Trail, as an outcrop of boulders are just ahead. To your right you will see an interesting rock outcropping, which of course I had to climb. Note: Please exercise caution when climbing these rocks as they are home to potentially lethal creatures, such as rattlesnakes.
The hike grows relatively flat from here, passing through sections of grassland and more rock croppings. You will likely pass by quite a few individuals climbing these rocks on the weekends as you share the trail with throngs of mountain bikers. Soon you will pass the Rock Ridge Trail, which is also well marked. Continue following the Boulder Loop Trail. As you continue south, you’ll pass by a nice area to take in some breathtaking views of Escondido, including the nearby Stanley Peak, and take a break beneath a shaded wood structure. From here, this is where you will encounter a steep descent downhill. You will descend over 1,700 feet the next half mile of the trail ending back at the Ranch House Trail.
Follow the Ranch House Trail back to the trailhead and parking lot.
Boulder Loop Tips
Tip 1: Be careful when rock climbing. Most of the rocks require you to walk through brush and off the beaten trail, home to rattlesnakes.
Tip 2: You can access Dixon Lake for free from Daley Ranch, which sometimes has a fee at other access points.
Tip 3: A map of the different trail options is available at the entrance. Take a look to get familiar with all Daley Ranch has to offer.
Tip 4: Hike this trail during January-June for spring blooms and a more diverse landscape. Summer months can often be barren.
Tip 5: Horses are prohibited on Sundays. If you’re looking to avoid equestrians, Sunday is the day for you.
Tip 6: This is a very popular mountain biking trail. Share the trail accordingly.
Directions from downtown San Diego: Allow one-hour driving time to Daley Ranch. From I-15 N, exit east on El Norte Parkway. Turn left (north) on La Honda Drive. The parking area for the Daley Ranch is on the left. To the right is Dixon Lake.
Total Distance: 4 Miles
Trailhead Address: 3024 La Honda Drive, Escondido, CA 92027
Elevation Gained: 750′
Who is Sun Kissed Hiker?
Some might say that I’m over-the-top obsessed with hiking. I’d say I’m just a California girl chasing the sun one hike at a time.
Before hiking, my main form of exercise was going to the gym. I would hit the gym almost every day – buying cute workout apparel to motivate myself to lace up my sneakers and get out the door, pack a gym bag and bring it to work to force myself to go right after, try different flavor protein shakes for something to look forward to after completing a workout. Then I began to realize that going to the gym was forced. I wasn’t enjoying jumping on the treadmill for thirty minutes a day followed by spending an hour lifting weights. So I tried a few different types of workout classes. Few might be an understatement. I tried Pilates, Yoga, Zumba, Turbo Kick Boxing, Body Pump Classes, Orange Theory, TRX classes, and even had a short stint with CrossFit. None of them stuck.
Then a friend of mine asked me to go on a hike. I knew what hiking was – I’d seen plenty of my friend’s enviable photos from awesome hikes they did over the weekend but I’d never done one myself. So I laced up my tennis shoes, brought no water, and took off on my first hike. It was rough. I didn’t have the proper attire, felt dehydrated, and wished I brought some sort of backpack to lug my possessions in. But I felt something inside that I hadn’t felt in a long time when it came to fitness: Passion. With just one hike I had developed a passion and I wanted to do it again. So I did, with proper preparation the next time. I bought myself a good quality pair of hiking boots, a Camelbak, and remembered to bring protein-packed snacks and water with me. Then I found myself hiking again and again and again. Soon I found myself traveling to different states just complete certain hikes.
Six years after embarking on my first hike I’ve completed nearly 50 different hikes – most of which I’ve hiked several times! With the knowledge and experience I’ve gained combined with my love for writing, I started this blog in hopes that I can inspire/motivate people to take their first hike or continue hiking. This is designed to be a resource to introduce you to hikes that may be nearby or that you might want to travel to see – while providing you with tips and inside information to help prepare you for your adventure.
This California girl has a lot of uncharted territory to cover so stay tuned for new hikes and hiking tips to come!
Chelsea the Sun Kissed Hiker