If you’ve ever stepped outside the day after a storm to see cottony cumulus clouds floating gracefully across a sparkling blue sky while water drips from every branch, then you know what a joy it is to take a post-rain hike in San Diego County. Whether it’s a swollen cascade, the intoxicating scent of wet sage or creosote, or the suddenly hi-def views ranging for 100 miles or more in all directions, the best of our landscape comes out after the rain.
We generally recommend you wait for 24-48 hours after a rainstorm before heading out on the trails — you’ll save those routes a LOT of erosion and wear and tear. Also be sure to check with parks to make sure they’re open — many places limit access after a storm.
That said, if you’re looking for the best places to hike following a rain storm, here is a short but by no means exhaustive list of some of the best post-rain hikes in San Diego County:
Best Post-Rain Hikes Near the Coast
Torrey Pines Reserve and Extension: rain wakes up the dormant essential oils from black sage, coastal sagebrush, and the Torrey pine and practically sprays those intoxicating scents into your face. Couple that with undiminished views north and south along the coast and an often turbulent ocean below, and you have Torrey Pines at its best. Just check with the parks before you head out – trails are often closed for a bit after a big rain event to prevent erosion.
Bayside Trail: Coastal sage-scrub and pristine views also factor into this hike, but provided the passing storm was cold enough, the rare sight of the snow-capped Cuyamaca Mountains is not to be missed.
Best Post-Rain Hikes Inland
Iron Mountain: Any one of the peaks east of I-15, including Mt. Gower, Mount Woodson, Cowles Mountain, the Fortuna Mountains, and Stanley Peak will provide spectacular clear-sky views, but Iron Mountains nearly panoramic vistas and central location are perhaps the best.
Cedar Creek Falls: the falls here usually range from a trickle to a whisper during the dry season, but during the winter when heavy rains come, the waterfall comes alive in a spectacular way. Be sure to use caution if the rains have been very heavy; crossing the San Diego River on the way in from Ramona Estates can be a dangerous affair. An alternative trailhead south of Julian avoids the crossing.
Engelmann Oak Loop, Daley Ranch: Clear skies, dripping oaks, and the sweet smell of wet chaparral make this one of my all-time favorite post-rain hikes.
Best Post-Rain Hikes in San Diego’s Mountains
Lower Doane Valley and French Valley: One time following a massive later winter rain storm, I walked this route and saw a herd of deer 30 strong. Wet meadows seem to bring wildlife out en masse. The rain also swells Doane and French Creeks, creating a powerful cascade near the old weir site.
Cuyamaca Peak: at 6,512′, Cuyamaca Peak is the second highest peak in the county. That height is usually enough for snow accumulation during cold winter storms, and up to two feet at a time may accumulate near the top. The peak also lies near the geographic center of San Diego, which means stupendous views for 100 miles in all directions.
Best Post-Rain Hikes in the Deserts
Hellhole Canyon: Creosote, the ubiquitous and often overlooked king of desert foliage, provides some of the desert’s considerable magic following a rainstorm. Like the aforementioned sages and sagebrushes, creosote releases volatile essential oils that create an indefinable, yet inescapably brilliant scent throughout the desert. Add the invigorated sounds of water cascading inside a fern-bedecked grotto, and Hellhole Canyon becomes a sublime post-rain hike. Nearby Borrego Palm Canyon is also brilliant for the same reasons.
Whale Peak: The sweet smell of creosote, plus all of the volatile scents released from pinyon pines and juniper bushes make the olfactory aspects of this trail overwhelming. Whale Peak frequently collects snow during cold rain storms, and the 360′ degree views over the entirety of Anza-Borrego Desert are never better than after the rain.