Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, Escondido

#2 of 8 in Parks in Escondido
Forest · Hidden Gem · Nature / Park
One of San Diego County’s most precious natural resources, the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve offers approximately 11 miles of hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails, as well as picnic areas and scenic mountain viewing points. In addition, the natural beauty of the Reserve includes such native plant communities as oak riparian, oak woodland, coastal sage scrub and chaparral. All wildlife and natural resources at the Reserve are fully protected so that future generations may also enjoy these wonders.

Weather permitting, the Reserve is open every day of the year except Christams Day. The Reserve opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes approximately 30-45 minutes before sunset.

The 784-acre Reserve was developed by Olivenhain Municipal Water District in partnership with the San Diego County Water Authority and the Bureau of Land Management, as an element of the Olivenhain Water Storage Project and the Authority's Emergency Storage Project. Owned by the Authority and managed by OMWD, the Reserve has been designed to unify the interests of domestic water supply development, natural resources management, and recreational opportunities.

The Reserve sits within the Escondido Creek watershed, which flows year-round from Lake Wohlford to San Elijo Lagoon. The creek runs adjacent to the Reserve's staging area, giving all visitors an opportunity to pass over it as they begin their hike or ride from the trailhead.

The Reserve is home to the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center Honoring Susan J. Varty, which is operated in partnership with the Escondido Creek Conservancy. The Reserve also boasts six designated overlooks, each with a shade structure and/or picnic tables and providing views of the Pacific Ocean, Channel Islands, Coronado Islands, the Laguna and San Bernardino mountain ranges, and the Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir. Other amenities include portable restrooms and drinking fountains.

The Reserve provides a wealth of opportunity for recreation, educational research, and environmental appreciation. Whether hiking, biking, riding, or just relaxing, experiencing one of the few remaining rural areas in North County is a great way to spend the day.
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Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve reviews

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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
46 reviews
  • Lovely hike, it is not an easy stroll, you do go up in elevation, but the views from the top is worth it. Summertime I would recommend early morning or very late afternoon, not much shade. The stream....  more »
  • first time visiting and my boyfriend and I hiked the Way Up trail and ate lunch at the Mariposa Picnic Area with views of the water and beautiful scenery. I would say it is an easy trail, but for...  more »
  • The Elfin Forest was Elfin hot 🔥! Awesome place lots of other trails to check out. Beautiful views of Lake Hodges and the reservoir. Really nice places for resting up have some water and a snack and getting out the sun. Lots of beautiful views of the mountain ranges and other trails to the east. Free parking and facilities! Definitely want to come back and check out some of the other trails. Lots of hikers and mountain bikers. Trails are marked very well and are maintained very well. My friend tells me that the park ranger there is pretty strict so watch where you hike or bike. There are areas that are closed and signs are posted. I would recommend getting there right when they open or during cooler temperatures or weather. If you go out while the sun is blazing like we did and got there a few minutes after they opened. Bring plenty of water it is enjoyable just make sure you douse yourself in sun screen and a giant hat. The sun was pretty brutal today. But go out and check it out for yourselves, get out there and gain some ground!
  • A lot of trails to explore and a nice creek. Come early because there are literally 25 parking spots and the place seems to be really popular. Make sure you have a steady pace and lots of water. Also, it's helpful to have great stability to cross the creek. If you bring your dog, they must be on a leash & you must clean up after them. Very cool place. I want to get better at hiking so I will go to the botanical part first and slowly get better.

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