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  • Day Hike- Hellhole Canyon

Day Hike- Hellhole Canyon

  • 31 Mar 2019
  • 9:30 AM
  • Hellhole Canyon Valley Center



What a year we’ve had so far, rain, wind, and even snow, but all that precipitation means that the hills are green and the wild flowers will be putting on a spectacular show. We invite you to join us to explore north county, and don’t forget, our day activities are open to all, so bring a friend or two to enjoy the outdoors and meet new people.

GOSD Day Outing: Hellhole Canyon County Preserve

Hike Leader: Steve Hedge
Meeting Time:9:30 AM
Distance:5.0 miles (out-and-back)
Hiking Time:2.5 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss:700’/700’
Trail Use:Dogs allowed

Directions: Exit I-15 at Valley Parkway.  Go east through downtown Escondido (temporarily on an eastbound one-way street).  At 4.8 miles east of I-15, Valley Parkway becomes Valley Center Road (at the Washington Avenue intersection).  Continue another 0.8 miles to Lake Wohlford Road and turn right.  Drive 6.0 miles and turn right  on Paradise Mountain Road.  Continue east 3.3 miles to Kiavo Drive, where you bear left (north).  The preserve’s staging area and trailhead is 0.5 miles ahead.

Description: Hellhole Canyon County Preserve, east of Valley Center, features a wide-ranging system of trails throughout most of its 1,712 acres.  The county acquired this and other parcels of surplus Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property in North County when the BLM sought to dispose of them in the 1980s.  Much of the preserve burned during the 2007 Poomacha Fire, but the vegetation has made a robust comeback. 

From the trailhead, follow the trail leading down along a scruffy ridgeline to the north.  The boulder-studded west rampart of 3,886-foot Rodriquez Mountain lies to the east; on humid days, the mountain sometimes creates its own cloud cap.

You then round a switchback and descend more quickly.  At 0.8 mile, you arrive at a secluded spot along Hell Creek that can only be described as enchanting.  During winter and early spring, water happily spills over smooth boulders under a canopy of spreading live oaks and twisted sycamores.  Downstream from here, more than a century ago, travelers sometimes had a hell of a time getting their wagons across the rain-swollen creek while traveling the Escondido-to-Palomar road-hence the stream’s colorful name.  Curiously, there’s no connection between the names of Hell Creek and the nearby upland area called Paradise Mountain.  The latter was apparently christened by a couple of hot and thirsty prospectors after they discovered a cold spring there.

Just ahead, the trial joins the old, rock-lined bed of the original Escondido Canal, which was built to transport water for the San Luis Rey River into upper Escondido Creek.  On this agreeable stretch, you pass thorough one of the most charming oak glens in the whole county.  Succulent live-forevers cling to the crumbling canal walls.  For another 0.5 mile, the trail sticks with the abandoned canal, which strikes a nearly flat course across a sunny, chaparral-covered slope.

At 1.3 miles, the trial veers uphill, leaving the old canal.  Keep left at the trail fork 100 years ahead, staying low. (The right branch climbs to the mountainous, east part of the preserve, and loops back down to join the trial ahead.) On the lower trail, you traverse a grassy slope dotted with redolent wild onions.  You then start descending back to the canal bed, join it for a short while, and descend further to reach Hell Creek right at the point where a large metal pipe crosses over.  The pipe-an inverted siphon-shortcuts the path of the original canal you were walking along earlier.  Water flowing through the siphon has come from an intake on the San Luis Rey River in the La Jolla Indian Reservation, and it is bound for Lake Wohlford, which supplies water to Escondido.  Park literature advises that you should not trespass on the privately owned siphon.  You’ve now traveled 2.5 miles from the start, and this is a good place to turn back and return the same way.

Depending on the weather and group, we may extend the hike to go up to the top of the peak, for a more scenic view of the area.

Don’t forget to bring water and a snack.  As always, we recommend bringing the 10 essentials. 

Hope to see you out there!

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