Torrey Pines Reserve Extension is an addendum to the more famous and more heavily visited main reserve. This little-known pocket of wilderness in the midst of ultra-high value homes is widely overlooked, except by local residents. Located north of the Penasquitos Lagoon – opposite the main reserve – this diminutive parcel of land features mature trees, some of which are enormous, ocean views, and a sense of solitude nearly impossible to find on most of San Diego’s coastal trails. This is a city of people deeply in love with outdoor activity, and a spot this overlooked is a true gem.
After the main reserve was officially established in 1959, another 11 years would elapse before the establishment of the the extension. The sandstone bluffs on which the main reserve stands managed to remain remarkably undeveloped, aside from the golf course, due to widespread conservation efforts. Sadly, this was not true of the more heavily-wooded northern bluff. After the establishment of the main reserve, conservation groups (Sierra Club, Torrey Pines Association, Citizens Coordinate) turned their attention to the northern bluff, which had lost many Torrey pines to the development of luxury homes. The tiny 197 acre parcel set aside saved 1,500 trees either from destruction or ornamental use in landscaping for high-value homes. While 1,500 trees sounds like a whisper in the forest, bear in mind that there are an estimated 3,000 Torrey pines remaining in the natural habitats of San Diego (there are more on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park). The extension, while being much smaller than the main reserve, holds half of the trees.
What the extension lacks in beach access is made up for by this relative abundance of Torrey pines. Portions of the reserve are heavily wooded, almost to the point of being considered forested. There is one stretch of woodland along the D.A.R. (Daughters or the American Revolution) Trail that is a nearly pristine relic illustrating what was once a vast coastal forest in much older times. The same array of wildflowers and coastal sage-scrub that graces the main reserve is also present here, and during average or above average precipitation seasons, the place is carpeted in a variety of wildflowers. Of those wildflowers, the showy sea dahlia is perhaps the most beautiful.
This write up will guide you through the two main trails into the extension. Start by parking your car in the mercifully empty and free cul-de-sac at the end of Del Mar Scenic Drive. At the junction, take the Margaret Fleming Trail to the right. For those curious, Margaret Fleming is the daughter of Guy Fleming, who did for these trees what John Muir did for the Sierras. This trail begins a breezy climb through dense coastal scrub, richly aromatic with scents of three varieties of sage, as well as the sweetly spicy coastal sagebrush. Occasional Torrey pines punctuate the low scrubs before the trail arrives at a severely eroded staircase.
This small staircase will pull you up onto a ridge. Mind that you keep to the trail here because the sandstone does not need additional help in disintegrating. Views will open up south and west over the gentle ravine running through the heart of the extension. There are some nice places to sit (or, as the local yogis do, meditate) beneath trees for a picnic. If you follow the track, the trail will dead-end eventually, and you will need to turn around to return to the start. You may notice a spur trail off to your left, which leads down a flight of stairs. This is a nice trail, but it too will dead-end. It once looped back to the main trail, but erosion wiped out a connection to a bridge, making for a few dangerous and shaky moments that, for safety reasons, should be avoided.
After you’ve backtracked to the junction near the start, turn right onto the main trail and follow through a large sandy patch and then up the narrow trail. You’re likely to see an enormous variety of flowers, including monkey flower, sage, datura, and a hundred or so that I cannot name. This trail soon arrives at a junction beneath what is likely the largest Torrey pine in the entire park system. This huge tree reaches at least 70 feet, and it spreads out gracefully, casting huge pools of shade. After walking beneath its bows, the trail climbs up to another ridge, which features the most beautiful aspects of the park.
Options to go left and right emerge, and you should take both of them. Going left, you’ll traverse the ridge until coming to a viewpoint that opens up with ocean views and views across to the main reserve. This is a fantastic place to observe a sunset, meditate, do yoga, or bring a date for nature-enhanced romance. After lingering here, return to the junction, but make sure you watch for sea dahlias during Spring, whose yellow flowers explode brightly against the backdrop of relatively drab sage-scrub.
Backtracking to the the junction, turn left until the trail drops a bit and takes a bend to the right. After rounding this bend, you will emerge into the woodland I mentioned earlier. The trees are thick in this narrow ravine, and you can get the sense that you have stepped out of San Diego and back into the past. There’s a conveniently placed bench to sit or lie down to enjoy to cacophony of birdsong that is ever-present in this heavily wooded section. The trail goes on, but it closes abruptly at an area that has experienced recent erosion. I don’t recommend going past this sign, but should you do so, use caution.
Once you have soaked in the atmosphere or sunset and are ready to depart, it’s back the way you came down the ridge and down to your car. This is not a long, strenuous hike. It’s fairly short, which is what makes it so ideal for a peaceful experience. While the long, challenging hikes are rewarding in their ways, sometimes these quiet, easy, and short hikes are even more satisfying, particularly should be looking for peace, quiet, and a quick reduction of your stress level.
Things to know:
– While this is an incredibly safe place to hike owing to its proximity to civilization and excellent cell reception, there are a fair amount of rattlesnakes lurking in the bushes. The presence of rattlesnakes is a consideration on most hikes, and when encountered, they should be given a wide berth. Most snake bites occur on the hands, which suggests that rattlesnakes have attacked when cornered or when hikers have made attempts to handle them. Keep your distance, and the worst you’ll get is a bit of a thrill.
Trail is generally well-maintained, although there are places where erosion has created some tricky steps. Roots will occasionally protrude on the trail making it necessary to keep an eye on the trail.
Take I-5 to to Carmel Valley Road. Turn right off of the off-ramp if southbound; turn left off of the off-ramp is northbound. Turn right onto Del Mar Scenic Parkway and follow it to the dead-end. Park your car in the cul-de-sac.