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The Rancho La Costa Preserve trail system is surprisingly extensive given the extensive development that nearly surrounds it. Its layout features a strenuous climb of about 600 feet through coastal sage habitat to a hilltop which at one time was difficult to reach even via jeep trail.
Parking for this trailhead is on Corta Romero, a dead-end street off of Camino Junipero and only one block from Rancho Sante Fe Road between La Costa Avenue and San Elijo Road. There are other trailheads in the park providing access to a network of interconnecting trails from all directions. The trails are popular with hikers, mountain bikers and people walking their dogs on a leash. While hikers are allowed on all 15 miles of trails, some trails are off-limits to other users. A printable map of the Rancho La Costa Preserve trails is located at http://www.carlsbadca.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=29202.
The top of the preserve is informally called Denk Mountain, and at 1041 feet it is the highest point in Carlsbad. On most days you have a view in all directions, including the ocean and Batiquitos Lagoon to the west. The 1640 acre reserve is managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management which acquired the property between 2001 and 2011.
The main ecosystems are coastal sage scrub and mixed chaparral. The trails are well-maintained but can be steep with some loose rock in certain areas. Trails are marked but a map can be handy as doing a circular route to the top of Denk Mountain and back involves several named trails.
The wildflowers were beautiful in spring, with patches of California poppies, Mariposa lilies, buckwheat, phacelia and more. Look closely to find wildlife; I heard and saw spotted towhees in several places along the trails, and by slowing down and looking carefully, I saw many species of insects. In places the trail was scented by the large sage plants bursting into bloom. In fact, wildlife thrives in this corridor between the watersheds of San Marcos Creek and Escondido Creek which carry their waters to the Batiquitos and San Elijo lagoons.
Heading further east, into the connecting County of San Diego trail system, quality vistas and habitat continue for miles across the terrain of Elfin Forest.
—Barbara Swanson, April 2019
Photos below by Barbara Swanson. Click on any image to enter manual slide show, use slide controls to toggle info, advance slides.