Guajome County Park is an oasis of marshes, creeks, ponds, and lakes tucked into bustling east Oceanside. The park offers several miles of trails, a campground, two day use areas with picnic tables and playground equipment, fishing, and hiking, all within 30 minutes of most of North County. While the rest of the county bakes during the summer, cool ocean breezes and early morning marine layer provide natural air conditioning to keep you cool during a nice, easy stroll in the park.
This area, which is part of the San Luis Rey River valley, got its name from a Luiseño word meaning “Frog Pond.” Guajome does indeed have a frog pond, which also attracted interest from the Franciscan friars who established the San Luis Rey Mission just down the road from the park. The friars of yesteryear utilized the land around the current park for grazing. The land passed through the hands of numerous owners until the nearby Guajome ranch house was decreed a national landmark and purchased by the county, along with 165 acres for use as a recreation area.
Due to the abundance of suburban and semi-rural development around the park, Guajome does not have the wild character of most inland hikes. However, its ease of access and rich riparian and marshland landscapes offer a welcome respite from civilization. This write-up details a loop around the park that includes the pond, a creek, two separate marshes, a signed nature trail identifying native and non-native plants, a large lake with good bird watching, and the 35 site (plus one cabin) campground.
Starting from the parking lot at Guajome Lake Road on the northeast section of the park, pass through a gate and find a faint dirt path leading past an info kiosk with a trail map to a wide fire road called the Summit Trail. The Summit Trail will undulate over a few grassy hills dotted with non-native wild anise (which produces a pleasant licorice scent) before joining the Willow Trail. Keep left at the next junction and follow the Pond Trail as it loops around a small pond that is mostly obscured by bullrushes. There are a couple of spots to walk down to the edge of the pond, enabling fishing, but access is generally a little spotty.
On the south side of the pond, the trail will pass over a creek feeding the pond, which supports dense thickets of willows. There’s a bench and a short use trail leading into this jungle, but keep your eyes peeled for poison oak. The trail bends around the pond on its west side where it junctions back again with the connector between the Willow Trail and the Pond Trail. Follow this trail a short way and then veer left back onto the Willow Trail.
You’ll drop down a short, but steep hill that leads through the first of two marshes. This marsh is full of all kinds of native and non-native plants, with the former including bunch grasses, bullrushes, and coastal sagebrush, and the latter including Canary Island and Mexican fan palms. As you pass by the marsh, the trail bends off to the left to a park with picnic tables and playground equipment. There is also a parking lot for the Santa Fe Rd. entrance, and it should be noted that there’s a $3 day use fee for parking at this entrance.
Right at the spot where the trail enters the playground area, another trail will branch right and head toward a strip of riparian vegetation. This trail will connect with the Nature Trail, which features a number of signs identifying vegetation. This trail is one of the loveliest parts of the park, as it travels through a dense, tunnel-like corridor of willows, cottonwoods, palms, and eucalyptus trees on its way toward another marsh and the lake. You’ll reach a wooden bridge passing over a dense patch of yerba mansa, which produces bunches of white blooms in May and June. Just pass this bridge, the trail will reconnect with a parallel trail running along the campground. Turn left on this trail to circle around the lake.
The trail will then wrap around Guajome Lake. This man-made lake plays host to a number of waterfowl species, including herons, egrets, geese, ducks, and coots. The trail will come to a junction that leads through an underpass going beneath Highway 76 where it bends left to connect with the San Luis Rey River bike trail. Turn right at this junction and continue to wrap around the lake. You’ll come out at the park’s main entrance at Guajome Lake Road. A concrete trail will continue to bend along the lake as it passes through some planted pepper trees and ironwood trees. The lakeshore is most accessible from here, but watch out for the geese; they get a little grumpy.
The trail, which is now a concrete walkway, will continue on toward the campground. From here, there isn’t really much trail left, and you can essentially walk along the grass past the restrooms until you come back to the gate from which you started.