Mission Trails Regional Park: South Fortuna, Oak Canyon, Junipero Serra

Mission Trails Regional Park is a 5,800 acre natural preserve situated entirely within the city limits of San Diego. A municipal park this size is so rare that Mission Trails ranks as the sixth largest municipally-park in the country, as well as the largest in Southern California. It features numerous rocky peaks with great views of San Diego, as well as Mission Gorge, through which the San Diego River has carved its path.

Distance: 6.9 Miles
Elevation Gained: 1,300′
Difficulty: Moderate, save for one very strenuous section
Time: 2:45
Critters: Hawks, rabbits, ducks

Get there like this.

This park is located within San Diego city limits, and, as you can imagine, it is very popular and very crowded. Oddly enough, I didn’t come across a whole lot of people, which supports a theory that purports that (using an actual mathematical theory that I won’t bother producing) the further from a road and the greater the slope, the more exponentially the number of hikers decrease. I don’t know if this is really true or not, but even at a popular place like this, you can still find a certain kind of solitude.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this hike. I am aware that this statement reveals my snobbery in all of its shame. However, I’m making an effort to approach hikes without expectation, prejudice, and bias. Sure, I like a hike with a lot of trees, and there are not a lot of trees at Mission Trails. Sure, I like to hike in places where I’m not reminded of civilization, and one of the hallmarks of this park is its accessibility. However, it’s axiomatic that expectation leads to disappointment, and so I set out with the goal of simply enjoying a good workout.

And with all of that in mind, I have to say I really enjoyed this hike. It had a little of everything: a good, steep summit climb; shady stretches with weeping oaks and trickling streams; views, both natural and civilized; and enough exercise to get the heart rate up without every really being painful.

And I have to say that I was impressed with much of what this park has to offer. The Gorge itself has an impressive grandeur that one would not expect from a municipal open space preserve. Oak Canyon is a cool respite from a lot of sweaty, sunny areas. The San Diego River itself is a lovely water course that puts its northerly neighbor’s namesake river to sad, sad shame. The hills here are fairly challenging despite their relatively modest stature, at least in comparison to nearby El Cajon Mountain and Cuyamaca Peak pictured above.

As with all things, it’s good that I was able to dispense with the judgments, biases, and preferences so that I could simply enjoy being outdoors in a nice, natural place. I’ve taken hikes in the past where I grumbled inwardly about this or that without being able to simply appreciate that I was outside getting some fresh air. Ultimately, that’s what this hiking business is all about, and as much as I’d love to hike in the Sierras every day of my life, I’m blessed to have what I have in a world that is ever more connected, fast-paced, ecologically diminished, and stressful.

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