The 10 Best Running Trails in San Diego
The choices for running routes are endless in the San Diego, CA area. I like to describe the San Diego area as a runner’s mecca. I had a hard time deciding which trails to run during a 3-day trip to San Diego. Next time, I am going to plan a “runner’s vacation” for one week to try a good handful of the trails listed in San Diego’s Top 50 Trails. This article mentions 10 popular trails or parks for running.
1. Balboa Park
Balboa Park features 65 miles of trails with so many options. The park offers a variety of types of trails ranging from cement paths near the park’s art galleries to dirt paths through secluded parts of the park. The system of trails also include terrain for different levels of runners; for example, Trail #1 is a flat loop-style trail perfect for beginners.
My favorite short run is the Maple Canyon Trail located on West Maple Street. It’s 1.5 miles long and the difficulty is rated at easy. The main reason this is my favorite trail because there is the option to add a little “kick” to the workout by running by the staircase along Renard Way. Plus, there is the option to extend past 1.5 miles by linking the running route to other Balboa Trails. This trail also won San Diego Magazine’s "Trail of the Month" back in April 2014. One of the points the magazine states is, "the trail is a hidden pathway in the heart of Bunker Hill."
Balboa Park has 5 gateway networks of trails. Those 5 gateways are the following:er Hill."
- Golden Hill is located on the south side of the park. It has three trails in its network ranging from .5-6.8 miles in length. The trails go through Florida Canyon.
- Marston Point contains 4 easy to moderate trails ranging from 1-3.5 miles in length. These trails are located in the West Mesa part of the park.
- Morley field consists of 3 trails with lengths around 2-3 miles. Two of the trails are dirt trails and the other is cement and road.
- Park Blvd contains 4 trails: 1 miler, two 3-mile trails, and one 6-miler. The trails are a mixture of unpaved to paved surfaces. Three of the trails are easy to moderate, while the 6-miler is rated as difficult.
- Sixth and Upas - This area consists of a bigger chunk of Balboa Park. It has 5 trails ranging from 1-6 miles with varying levels.
La Jolla Shores Beach could be a running section of the La Jolla community because the ocean trails call for a pleasant running experience. The trail offers views of tall cliffs, breaking waves, and native shore birds. Runners also have the option to have a difficult workout by running in the sand. For those who love long runs, runners can run the whole five miles to a Torrey State Park. Excluding the sand beach, the ocean trail is about 2 miles long and rated as easy to intermediate.
Lake Miramar Trail is a local favorite for runners for many reasons. The trail is a perfect five miles and meant for all levels of runners. The trail outlines the lake the whole way too. The area is car-free Wednesday-Thursday, and it makes for a peaceful run. The trail has markers at every quarter mile, so keeping track of distance and time is easy. One of the reasons why the Lake Miramar Trail is my favorite is it is by C's Ice Cream and Deli, and it makes for a perfect after run treat. Other reasons are fishing and picnic tables and barbecue grills along the lake; therefore, it is simple to turn a Lake Miramar run into a day trip.
Lake Miramar trail is a loop-style trail with an elevation gain of 173 feet according to the All Trails website. It is located in the Scripps Ranch community outside of San Diego, CA. This video showcases some of the trails features.
El Cajon Mountain’s El Capitan Trail is one of the most difficult trails in California, and it’s only suitable for experienced trail runners. This video shows an example of a difficult part of the trail. It offers runners the rigor needed to train for trail runs or ultramarathons. I personally used El Capitan to train for the La Luz Trail Run in Albuquerque, NM when I was visiting family in San Diego. My favorite feature of the trail is the elevation gain. The elevation is an important factor when training for hard trail races in high altitudes. The elevation gain for El Capitan is 3766 feet over 11 miles on an out and back style-trail. It is a dangerous trail too. What prepared me is reading the tips and precautions in the All Trails website.
Although this is a very difficult trail, the views from the top are worth it. The overlook shows San Diego River Valley, Mexico, and Iron Mountain. There are enough benches and shaded areas along the way for rest breaks.
El Cajon Mountain is located in Lakeside, CA. Details about the trail as well as pictures can be found on the Get Outdoors website.
5. Lake Poway
Lake Poway Trail is an easy, loop style trail that is close to 3 miles long.The trail starts in the gorgeous Lake Poway recreational area. The trail is lined with sycamore trees, wildflowers, rolling hills, and dense shrubs.
Runners have the option to create longer runs because Lake Poway Trail is connected to a few other trails. Those trails are Avocado Link, Blue Sky, Espola, and Warren Canyon Trails. Map of the Lake Poway Trail can be found through All Trails.
6. Mission Bay
The Mission Bay area is known for its trails. The Mission Bay Trail gives runners the option for a one-way, 3-mile run or a 19-mile loop around the bay. The Mission Bay Trail offers scenic views of two parks and wildlife preserves. Runners have a couple of options for extending a run at Seaworld drive. The trail connects to San Diego River Valley Trail, or runners can go through Mission Beach to run the Pacific Beach Boardwalk.
7. Torrey Pines State Beach
I enjoyed giving myself a calf workout by running on the sandy beach. I ran on the beach for 20 minutes, but it was enough to give my calves the burn it needs. It was low tide, so I was able to run on the wet compacted sand. There were parts where I had to run on loose soft sand.
Runners like the trails in Torrey Pines State Beach for multiple reasons. A local runner stated in the Runner’s World article that the lighting is magnificent, and you can see the Pacific Ocean the whole duration on the trail. Another factor is the scenery. Since the trail is by the ocean, the trees are shaped by the wind. Plus, there is an endangered Torrey Pines tree along the way. A rule has been established to prohibit food (water is fine) on the trail to protect the sensitive ecosystem.
Torrey Pines State Park has six trails ranging in different lengths (.4-1.5 miles). The trails can be linked together for a longer run. Local runners also like to run up the hill between the lower parking lot and trailhead. San Diego’s Hiker Association made a video highlighting some of the trails features.
The Train Run also won San Diego Magazine’s “Trail of the Month” award back in November 2015. The Train Run is a local favorite due to the fact the course is along the ocean and flat. The article also states it’s a fun way to do a point-to-point run without a car.
Runners park their cars at either Solana Beach or Oceanside and take the Coaster to the other end of the course. Then, they run back to their cars. More information about the elevation gain and course can be found within Map My Run.
9. Sunset Cliffs Trail
Local runners love the Sunset Cliffs Trails because of the topography and panoramic ocean views. Other scenic features include arches, coastal bluffs, native flora and sea caves. Another sight to see when running this trail is the migration of the California Gray Whale when it travels from Bering Sea to Baja California.
The trail is an out and back style trail. It is rated as easy, and it is about 1.8 miles with an elevation gain of 229 feet. A map of the trail can be found through The Trail Run Project.
The Silver Strands-Bayshore Trail is 18.7 miles long, and it gives runners the opportunity to log some serious miles. The trail also offers sensational views of the downtown skyline, Pacific, and San Diego Bay. The trail goes by the Coronado Golf Course, and the trail profile in the Trail Link website describes this particular scene as a “million-dollar view.” The trail is near many cafes and restaurants for rest breaks or after-run refueling.
The Silver Stands- Bayshore Trail is a rail-trail style path that is rated as moderate. It starts in Coronado, CA and goes through Silver Strand State Park and Imperial Beach. A map of the trail can be found through the All Trails website.
There you have it, the 10 best trails for running in San Diego.