It was turning out to be a lousy day. Things weren’t going well at my job. I was tired and cranky. I was experiencing the post vacation blues. My head hurt. Everything bugged me. As I commenced my hour-long commute thinking dark thoughts, I pulled over on the side of Highway 78 at the east end of Clevenger Canyon, through which I drive every day, and stopped at the Guejito Truck Trail. This trail leads into Boden Canyon, which is one of the lovelier surprises you will encounter while exploring north inland San Diego County.
Three miles into the walk, I plopped myself down squarely on the edge of a grassy meadow beneath a shady oak. A moderate breeze was blowing in off of the ocean as soft, late-afternoon light filtered through the weeping arches of countless oak branches. Thickets of poison oak and sycamore leaves rustled gently, while a chamber orchestra of birds approached a crescendo to celebrate the end of another day.
Had you asked me at this point what had been pissing me off so much, I would not have been able to tell you. As I write this now, I’m still not able to remember what was bothering me. This is part of the magic of Boden Canyon. You won’t find any towering peaks or rushing waterfalls. You’re unlikely to find much water at all, unless it has been pouring recently. There isn’t even a “real” destination as the path simply follows the old truck trail until it dead-ends at private property. The actual magic of the place lies in its serene, nearly untouched remoteness and its surprisingly lush oak woodlands. Taken on a winter morning or a spring afternoon, the peacefulness of this place is worth as much as or more than a strenuous peak-bagging adventure or a crowded waterfall.
This parcel of land was once pasture and ranch land that was deeded to the county for use as an open-space preserve. Like many of the other recent land acquisitions made by San Diego County, cattle ranching and hunting remain in operation here. While I’ve only ever seen a handful of cattle and one hunter, it is important to be aware of both factors as it’s possible to encounter both. For some hikers, encountering a man in camos lugging a rifle over his shoulder is a disconcerting event. I ran into one on my most recent hike here. He was cheerful and pleasant while wishing me a great hike.
The track presented above takes you through 3.2 of the 5.5 total miles of trail for a 6.5 mile round-trip trek. The remaining 2.3 miles include more of the same lovely oak woodlands, and the full 11 miles is a great hike for somebody looking for a longer trek. This hike terminates at a grassy meadow and a nearby pond, which is dry due to our current record-setting drought. This is as good a spot as any to rest and soak in the ambiance, although nothing but calories would be lost by continuing past this point.
The first challenge you’ll experience here is parking. There is no parking lot to speak of: only the gated turn-off for Guejito Truck Trail, which allows about two cars to park. There is a “no parking” sign posted, but so long as you are not directly blocking the gate, you can park here. There are a couple of spaces on the side of the highway both east and west of the trailhead. Fortunately, hardly anybody ever hikes or mountain bikes here, so it is unlikely to be too much of a problem finding parking. After you park, walk carefully past the large yellow gate and continue on the truck trail as it descends into the east end of Clevenger Canyon.
The trail will wind its way in and out of a ravine before descending to cross usually dry Santa Ysabel Creek. Ignore an overgrown truck trail branching off to your right before the creek, as it will take you far off the path before dead-ending in private property. After crossing the creek, the trail will begin the only steady ascent on the trail, which will account for a good chunk of the elevation gain. This section can be tough on a hot day, so be sure to take it slowly even though the grade isn’t all that challenging. You’re rewarded for your diligence as you pass through a shady grove of oaks and sycamores, which is a taste of what will soon dominate the hike. After a long bend to the left, the trail will pass through a narrow section of the canyon and emerge into a shady oak woodland that will be your companion for the remainder of your hike in.
As most oak woodlands mean shade and more retained moisture, you are likely to find abundant poison oak, as well as harmless wild grapevines, growing thickly anywhere the trees provide shade. Your best bet in avoiding the maddening itch that comes from contact with poison oak is to stick to the trail. Grass will grow pretty high along the trail during spring and summer, so it is also important to keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes. This becomes more of a problem further into the canyon where the truck trail dissolves into a single-track trail. Up to the point described in this write-up, the truck trail remains wide, giving the hiker lots of space to avoid possible snake encounters.
Those hazards aside, you are now walking beneath gnarled old oaks and occasional sycamores and cottonwoods. The creek will almost always be dry – I’ve only seen it running once – but the landscape surrounding it will be sublime. Since so few people come here and since it’s so removed from the populated areas of inland San Diego, solitude is easy to come by, which adds to the already magical pastoral scenes. If you find a comfortable tree to sit beneath, many hours can be spent reading, meditating, snoozing, or idling with friends or loved ones.
After a long stretch of woodland, the trail will emerge on an open meadow with a large pond on the right. During drought years, the pond will dry up, but during wet years, there will be a large pond with abundant waterfowl. This is the termination of this particular track, although it is possible to continue on through more oak woodlands until it dead-ends at a fence at 5.5 miles, allowing for a sum total of 11 possible hiking miles. The main advantage of continuing on here is to enjoy any one of a number of shady spots beneath a live oak, although the terrain and flora won’t change in any dramatic way for the remaining 2.3 miles.
Given that this hike is not a particularly challenging one unless temperatures scoot above 90 degrees, it is conducive for peaceful excursions with fewer aims than relaxing or reading a book. Of all the trails in San Diego, I feel that I’ve spent the most time lounging around at Boden Canyon. There are simply too many great trees to sit under and too many soothing sounds to calm the nerves frayed by so much civilization. If you’re looking for this kind of hiking experience, grab a picnic blanket, a good book, some tasty snacks, and head to Boden Canyon for some peace and quiet.