The popular Daley Ranch Park preserves one of the last major parcels of open space in the Escondido. Featuring a great variety of ecosystems, the park showcases a number of different hiking options, such as a loop through Engelmann oak woodland, a loop around a large meadow, ponds, chaparral, sage-scrub community, and, as on this hike, gleaming, white granite boulders.
Daley Ranch – Boulder Loop
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gained: 750′
Critters: Rabbits, hawks, quail, numerous birds
The Boulder Loop is one of the many hiking options available on Daley Ranch’s 25 miles of trails. This loop takes the hiker up a steep slope and onto a plateau that is studded with boulders and covered in coastal sage-scrub plants, along with scattered stands of coast live and Engelmann oaks. This loop also features good views of Escondido, the Palomar Mountain range, and, in some spots, the Pacific Ocean.
San Diego features a lot of rugged locations that are studded with boulders. These boulders were formed 100 million years ago, as magma cooled slowly below the surface. Millions of years of tectonics, fault movement, and erosion later, these boulders now sit upon the surface, often taking rounded shapes reminiscent of the boulder piles in Joshua Tree National Park. While not nearly as spectacular as those in the desert, the boulders in San Diego, specifically in Daley Ranch and Woodson Mountain, remain worthy attractions.
This loop features a lot more than just rocks. Following a late autumn storm, the chaparral and sage-scrub begins to emerge from its long, drought-induced slumber. New smells emerge after water stirs up the landscape, and the fresh, cool breezes are invigorating. Better yet, the soil here is mostly sandy, decomposing granite, so this hike is much less muddy than other post-rain hikes.
Also present on this loops are small groves of Engelmann oak, many of which are covered with mosses and lichens. While the trees here don’t grow as large or as gnarled as those at Santa Rosa, or even on Daley’s Ranch’s Engelmann oak loop, they are still a welcome addition to the landscape.
After making a wide loop on the plateau, the trail descends through a brief, but enchanting stretch through a ravine shaded by oak trees. Mist rose from the damp ground as the sun caused rapid heating, creating a magical stretch that segued into a dark, wooded area. Puddles collected on the ground, reflecting the remnants of yesterday’s storm clouds in a clear, blue sky.
Following this stretch, the trail reconnects with the paved Ranch House Road. If you are inclined, more adventure awaits in the direction of the ranch house. However, on this day, I turned back to the parking lot at La Honda Rd. in order to get back in time for work. This 4 mile loop located in close proximity to a major population center is a great option for an early morning hike before the rest of the work day presents its duties and obligations.