Sycamore Canyon/Goodan Ranch

Sycamore Canyon, which also contains Goodan Ranch, is a fairly substantial open space preserve sandiwched between Poway and Santee. It features rolling shrub-covered hills, wide, grassy meadows, riparian ecotones supporting willows, oaks, and the eponymous sycamores. It’s also the site of an old ranch and orchard, both of which were scorched during the 2003 Cedar Fire.

Distance: 5.2
Elevation Gained: 500’
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 2:15
Critters: 2 Coyotes, 4 rabbits, hawks

Note: The preserve is open from 8am to 5pm during the fall/winter months.


Jerry Schad’s hiking masterwork Afoot and Afield in San Diego lists 250 different hikes in San Diego County. This is as close to comprehensive as any hiking guide has ever come to mapping the worthwhile hikes in this region. This means that Schad covered 250 different hikes ranging from 1 mile to 20+ miles and managed to write detailed descriptions, directions, and statistics for each one. It’s an impressive achievement, made even more impressive when considering that he did the same thing for Orange County and Los Angeles County.

Every once in a while, I get the feeling that I’ve seen everything that there is to see out here. I start getting bored and antsy, thinking that there are no adventures left. Erroneous. I re-purchased Afoot and Afield, and found out the I have hiked 67 of the possible 250 hikes. Nearly 2,000 miles over 2 years, and I’ve only hiked 67 out of 250. It seems my work will never be done.

And I couldn’t be happier about that. The last few months have been all about novelty and exploration, and so in that spirit, I visited #68 out of 250 today at Sycamore Canyon/Goodan Ranch Preserve. This area is not to be confused with the Sycamore Canyon in Ventura County at Point Mugu State Park. This preserve has always been overshadowed by Woodson Mountain and Iron Mountain in my previous excursions, but I made the effort to get out here and enjoy some of the more subtle pleasures of the Poway area, which is mostly known for big hills, granite boulders, and Potato Chip Rock.

Some of those subtle pleasures come from the lingering effects of a recent storm. The ground still seems fairly saturated. New growth was emerging on the sagebrush, chamise, and buckwheat plants, and condensation beaded up on laurel sumac leaves. When the sun hit the saturated ground, water vapor drifted up out of the bushes, leaving a fine layer of mist over some of the damper areas. The air was cool and crisp, signifying Fall and all of the good things that come along with it.

I took the Martha’s Grove loop, which leads down one way through a grove of oak trees dedicated to a former police officer named Martha (I didn’t read the plaque). I mentioned earlier that this area burnt in the Cedar Fire, and except for the charred remains of the ranch house and the burnt olive grove, the area has almost completely recovered. The chaparral looks happy and healthy, and the oaks, while still a little scraggly, are well on their way to full recovery.

So, there it is. Another lovely, cool, 6:00 AM Fall morning in the backwaters of San Diego. The Poway area has a lot of good hiking. Woodson and Iron Mountain are the stars, but Blue Sky, Sycamore Canyon, and Twin Peaks also have their charms. Up next, #69 and #70 this Friday as part of a rare Meetup group outing.

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