Dog Friendly Hikes in San Diego

As a dog owner myself, I understand the feeling of wanting to take your dog everywhere. You’ll find plenty of dog friendly hikes in San Diego. Just remember to always check the weather before hiking with your dog, especially in the summer. Dogs overheat a lot faster than people do. If the temperature seems warm to you, it’s too hot for your dog. 

There are hundreds of dog friendly hikes in San Diego, including Iron Mountain, Elfin Forest, and Los Penasquitos Canyon. Almost all hikes require your dog to be on a leash. Certain places like California State Parks, Beaches, and Reserves have very strict rules on dogs.

Based on my own experiences and some research, I’ve put together a list of dog friendly hikes in San Diego with descriptions of each. Happy hiking!

List of Dog Friendly Hiking Trails

  1. Iron Mountain
  2. Cowles Mountain
  3. Double Peak
  4. Daley Ranch
  5. Elfin Forest
  6. Black Mountain Summit
  7. Los Penasquitos Canyon
  8. Lake Murray
  9. Sunset Trail to Mt Laguna
  10. Viejas Mountain Trail
Picture of Iron Mountain Summit

Iron Mountain

  • Trailhead: At the intersection of Hwy 67 and Poway Rd. You can plug in “Iron Mountain Trailhead” on Apple or Google Maps
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Est time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Dirt lot
  • Fees: None

One of San Diego’s most popular hikes, Iron Mountain will reward you with some amazing views. The first ¼ mile is under trees and then the rest is all exposed, so be sure to pack a hat. If you’re hoping to avoid crowds, go at the crack of dawn or sunset. The parking lot will fill up by 9 am on the weekends. Overflow parking is off the highway. 

Cowles Mountain

  • Trailhead: Barker Way Trailhead, Barker Way, San Diego, CA 92119
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Est Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: in the neighborhood
  • Fees: None

Another really popular hike in San Diego. Most people will take the main trail up with a crap ton of switchbacks. Once I found out about Barker Way Trail and the Service Road, I never took the main path again. There’s less people going up the backside to Cowles. On a clear day you’ll get views of Lake Murray, downtown San Diego, and the Coronado bridge.

Double Peak- San Marcos

  • Trailhead: Lakeview Park- 650 Foxhall Dr, San Marcos, CA 92078
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Est Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Small lot. Fills up quickly. Overflow parking in the neighborhood
  • Fees: None
  • All Trails link

Starting and ending at Discovery Lake is a nice benefit of hiking Double Peak. This hiking trail quickly starts taking you uphill. Unfortunately, part of this trail is alongside a road with bikers and cars. Not the best hiking trail if you’re looking to get away from the city. Pay attention to the signs along the way. There’s several different forks in the hiking path. You’ll find a nice park at the summit with picnic tables and trees for shade.

Daley Ranch- Stanley Peak

  • Trailhead: 3024 La Honda Dr., Escondido, CA
  • Distance: 6.5 miles
  • Est Time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Parking: Dirt lot. Fills up fast on the weekends. People end up parking about ½ mile away along the road.
  • Fees: None

There’s several different trails here. If it’s your first time I would check out the Ranch House. It’s an easy hike on a paved path. There’s picnic tables at the Ranch House and bathrooms make it a nice rest stop. If you’re looking for a challenge, Stanley Peak is the hike for you. There’s a lot of little trails, making it easy to take a wrong turn so keep a map on you. 

Lake Hodges Overlook- Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

  • Trailhead: 8833 Harmony Grove Road, Escondido, CA 92029
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Est Time: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: Very small lot at the trailhead. Fills up within 15 minutes. There’s an overflow parking lot off the main road. 
  • Fees: None

There’s a total of 11 miles of hiking trails. Great views at the summit overlooking Lake Hodges. The first 1.5 miles of this trail is the most intense. It’s called the “Way Up Trail” for a reason. You’ll gain a lot of elevation gain quickly. There’s picnic tables along the hiking trail to stop and take a water break at. 

This is one of the only dog friendly hikes in San Diego I’ve come across that allows you to have your dog off leash. It’s only a small section of the hike so make sure to read the signs to find out where you can let your dog loose.

The reserve opens at 8 AM and they close the parking lot 30 minutes before sunset. They post the exact closing time at the entrance.

Picture of Black Mountain Summit

Black Mountain Summit via Service Road

  • Trailhead:32.974764, -117.125322
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Est Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking: in the neighborhood
  • Fees: None

One of my favorite sunset hikes in San Diego. Even better, that it’s dog friendly. From the top you can see the hot air balloons in Del Mar. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the ocean. One of those hikes you’ll keep coming back to.  An alternative path is Nighthawk trail to Black Mountain Summit. This hiking path is a 1/2 mile longer and rockier than the service road.

Los Penasquitos Canyon

  • Trailhead: 12020 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129
  • Distance: 7.3 miles
  • Est Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: Lot
  • Fees: $3

This is an easy hike, with very little elevation gain. A popular family friendly hike, that leads to a small waterfall. Make sure to check your dog for ticks afterwards! This hike isn’t far from the city, but it’ll surprise you with lush oak trees, a creek, and a wetland environment. You can spot frogs in the streams and see so many different types of birds and plants that thrive in this environment. You’ll still be within earshot of the Miramar airport, so don’t expect complete tranquility on this hike.

Soon after starting this hiking trail you’ll see a single track taper off on the right. Take that trail instead of the main trail to avoid the mountain bikers. The small waterfall and oak trees make this a nice hiking trail but be aware of poison oak! 

Lake Murray

  • Trailhead: 5540 Kiowa Dr., La Mesa, CA 91942
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Est Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: paved lot
  • Fees: None

Less of a hike, more of a walking path. It’s all paved and does not loop around the entire lake. It’s an out and back trail. Highly recommend for the entire family. There’s some nice picnic tables along the lake and you can rent small boats and kayaks. You can also go fishing here. They sell fishing licenses at the concession stand. Dogs must be on a leash and are not allowed in the water or within 50 feet of the water. Open sunrise to sunset 7 days/ week.

Sunset and Big Laguna Loop

  • Trailhead: Meadows Information Kiosk Trailhead, Mount Laguna, CA
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Est Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Parking: On the shoulder of the main road
  • Fees: Adventure pass required. You can purchase a day pass for $5 online
  • All Trails Link

Located in Cleveland National Forest, this hike is great to get away from the city. In the fall the trees will change color and in the spring the meadows will be full and the grass will be green again. You can shorten this hike to just about 4 miles (All Trails Link) It’s mostly flat and a great option if you want to bring kiddos. There’s also a good amount of shade on this hiking trail. 

Viejas Mountain Alpine

Viejas Mountain

  • Trailhead: Viejas Mountain Trailhead, Mountain View Court, Alpine, CA 91901
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Est Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Parking: In front of the trailhead. No lot.
  • Fees: None

Located in Alpine, CA. I prefer hiking Viejas Mountain over Cowles Mountain because it’s not nearly as crowded. It’s short but still a good workout! The incline on the way up will have you sweating. The way down is steep so watch your step. Parts of this path are a little overgrown and most of it is loose rock. The summit is past the American flag about ¼ mile. It’s a completely exposed trail so a hat and sunscreen are a must!

Places you cannot hike with your dog

California State Parks, Beaches, and Reserves all have very strict rules on dogs. At Torrey Pines State Reserve, dogs are not allowed in the Reserve or anywhere on the beach. Why? According to the Torrey Pines Reserve website, “dogs frighten wildlife and their waste causes nesting animals to abandon their young.”

Other places, like Cuyamaca Rancho State Park allow dogs only in campgrounds, picnic areas, and on paved roads. Are there any dog friendly hikes in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park? There’s 1 dog friendly hike in this state park. Cuyamaca Peak from the paved Fire Road is the only dog friendly hike at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Click here for the All Trails map. 

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