East of east and south of south, urban San Diego dissipates into a patchwork quilt of semi-rural communities, open space preserves, and private ranchlands. Open grasslands, riparian canyons graced by old growth oaks and sycamores, and rugged, metavolcanic or granitic peaks characterize the region. Numerous rare and endangered species reside in these habitats, leading to a large percentage of this open space being set aside in the Multiple Species Conservation Plan and remaining off-limits to public use. One exception, and a beautiful one at that, is comely Hollenbeck Canyon lying just southeast of the town of Jamul.
This looping route samples all of the aforementioned natural features on a passage through Hollenbeck Canyon and Jamul Creek Canyon by way of the ridge dividing the two watersheds. Interior summertime temperatures tend to scorch the vegetation into meek submission by September, but winter’s rains and spring’s mild temperatures paint the canyon in verdant colors. A March passage through the canyon reveals a carpet of thick, green grass, alluring fragrances from sagebrush and sage, and an array of different wildflower species on display. Wildlife also parades through the canyon, especially when the creek is running, and deer, coyote, reptile, rodent, and even bobcat sightings are a possibility.
Starting from the dirt lot and signed staging area on Honey Springs Road, proceed northwest along the wide dirt trail up and over a gentle, grassy divide. Once over the divide, the trail descends into Hollenbeck Canyon. A gnarled oak tree, survivor of countless fires, stands sentinel over the mouth of the canyon, spreading its twisted boughs over a wide swath of grass. Near the tree, the main trail and a narrow user-created trail branching away on the right leads into the canyon.
As you continue northeast into the canyon, the canyon walls narrow as oaks and sycamores cast pools of shade over the trail. During wetter times, a thin stream of water trickles through the canyon. Continue through the narrow, gently twisting canyon until the walls spread apart into a narrow valley. At 1.4 miles, you will find the ruins of an old cabin presumably left by the original occupants on the left side of the trail. Just beyond the ruins, a fire road branches off to the left and proceeds to climb the line or rolling hills dividing Hollenbeck Canyon from Jamul Creek. Hikers can continue north for another 0.6 mile until the trail reaches private property that hikers are forbidden to access.
Just beyond a modest saddle, the trail reaches a junction with the Daley Ranch Truck Trail, which turns to the right (west) to descend downhill into Jamul Creek’s canyon. Once at the bottom of the canyon, bear to the left (going right leads to another property boundary) and follow the wider, more open creek bed. Unlike Hollenbeck Canyon, which features dense tree cover on both sides of the trail, Jamul Creek’s oaks are off to the left keeping their shade to themselves. A handful of spur trails dart into the cover of the oaks at various points, and some of these old growth trees are particularly picturesque.
At 3.4 miles, the trail passes along the rusted old corral and other ranching equipment left behind to decay as a dilapidated monument to the ranch’s former activities. Keep left at the junction just past the corral. This next trail turns east and follows a creek bed to a wide saddle between two lines of hills. The trail crosses a second creek bed before turning south through a narrow valley. Once through the valley, the trail bears to the east to cross Hollenbeck Canyon’s opening before returning to the Honey Springs Trailhead.
Good. The route follows wide dirt roads throughout its entirety.
There is no camping adjacent to Hollenbeck Canyon. The nearest campground is at Lake Jennings in Lakeside.
Take Highway 94 (Martin Luther King Freeway) east through Spring Valley until the highway ends and becomes Campo Road. From the end of the road, continue 1.3 miles to a junction with Highway 54. Turn right to remain on Campo Road. Continue for another 9.5 miles to Honey Springs Road and turn left. The staging area is on the left side of Honey Springs Road shortly after the turn.