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Explore the River On Your Own

Our Favorite Places and Spaces to Visit

The San Diego River is a local treasure waiting to be explored. With a watershed of more than 440 square miles, the River is an inviting and often overlooked waterway rich in cultural history, value, and recreational opportunities. Today, the River is being rediscovered and you are invited to follow its course and learn more about our namesake waterway. So get out there and discover the San Diego River!

We have brochures and maps to guide you along the River, its preserves and parks.


To enhance your San Diego River experience, a nature guide is available for your family to use, created by Marly Isler, a student at Francis Parker School.  This guide will help you indentify the many mammals, birds, reptiles and insects you will see on your journey along the San Diego River. A Brief Walk On The San Diego River is available for free download in the Online Information Center on our website (scroll down to the "Other Studies and Reports" section).

If you have any questions, please give us a call at (619) 297-7380.

Places to go

The Upper San Diego River
  • Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve East: This is a County of San Diego Open Space Preserve with 13 miles of trails. A portion of the Preserve is within the San Diego River Watershed, including the source of the River. Much of it is within the San Dieguito River Watershed. Features oak woodlands and grasslands, and great wildflower viewing in the spring. Wet weather may close the Preserve. Free access at two trailheads (one on Farmers Road and the other on SR 79 just north of the town of Santa Ysabel. Visit the County’s website for more information.

  • Cleveland National Forest: Many areas of the upper gorge of the San Diego River are within the Cleveland National Forest, including Cedar Creek Falls, the West Side Truck Trail, Three Sisters Falls, and more. These areas are generally open to public use. Check with the National Forest Service on limitations, restrictions and permits.

  • Lake Cuyamaca: Fishing, boating, overnight and day use, restaurant. There are fees for use, click here for details. 15027 Highway 79, Julian, CA 92036.

  • Cuyamaca Rancho State Park: Cuyamaca Peak (South Peak), Stonewall Peak and many other areas within the park are popular hiking and riding destinations. Day use and camping facilities. Fee. Click here for details.

  • William Heise County Park: 929 acre park at over 4000 feet in elevation. Pines and oak trees. Camping and day use. Fee. Click here for details.

  • Inaja Memorial Picnic Area: Day use only. This is a wonderful place to go for a short hike with an amazing view! Restrooms and picnic area available. Click here for details.

  • Eagle Peak Preserve: This San Diego River Park Foundation 516 acre wildlife preserve has a lot to offer: views, hiking, riding, birding, and more! Overnight wilderness camping by permit. Preserve gates are open for special events only. Hunting is not allowed on the property. No restrooms are available. Contact the River Park Foundation for info. Driving directions: Take Highway 79 to Pine Hills Road (from this turn it is 20+ minutes to the Preserve). Turn right onto Eagle Peak Road. After a short distance, Eagle Peak Road becomes a County maintained dirt road. It is generally in really good condition, but wet weather can make the road a bit slippery in a couple of spots so please drive carefully. The drive provides incredible views. Approximately 1/2 mile before the end of the road at the Saddleback Trailhead, you will see the Preserve on the left. A Preserve sign is located at the first entrance. We have 3 entries, and limited parking is available at the second and third entrances (also on the left). See a Google map of the site here and learn about our efforts to conserve this area here.

  • Cedar Creek Falls: This popular destination has an 80 foot waterfall and swimming hole. The hike is 4.4 miles roundtrip with more than 1,000 feet elevation change each way. It is important to take sufficient water on this hike, as the return trip can be strenuous. Permits are required to hike to the Falls, more information is available here. There are 2 trailheads. The Saddleback Trailhead is located at the end of Eagle Peak Road (same directions as Eagle Peak Preserve listed above). The other trailhead is located at the end of Thornbush Road in the San Diego Country Estates.

  • El Capitan Reservoir: Fishing, boating, and picnic area available at the reservoir. This is the largest reservoir in San Diego County. Learn more here.

Lakeside
  • El Monte County Park: This is a great day-use park, and one of the original County of San Diego parks. Fee. Located at 15805 El Monte Road. Learn more.

  • Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary: This is the San Diego Audubon Society’s wildlife preserve. This is a day use area, with great examples of chaparral habitat. Guided tours available! Located at 13003 Wildcat Canyon Road. Learn more.

  • Cactus County Park: Features ballields, BMX track, and more. Located at 10610 Ashwood. Learn more.

  • Lakeside’s River Park: This ¾ mile trail is great for walking, running, cycling, dogs, and more. To learn more about the trails and trailhead locations, click here.

  • Lakeside Baseball Park: To learn more about the ballfields, click here.

Santee
  • Santee Lakes: This is a 190 acre recreational preserve featuring camping, fishing, birding, fitness routes, and other activities. Fees. Located at 9310 Fanita Parkway. Learn more.

  • Mast Park: This award winning park winds along the banks of the San Diego River between Carlton Hills Boulevard and Cuyamaca Street. Natural habitat areas and an extensive trail system surround the park. Additional features include a developed picnic area, barbeque grills, a picnic arbor, playground, basketball court, off-leash area, and restrooms. Located at 9125 Carlton Hills Blvd. Learn more.

  • Town Center Community Park: Features sporting fields, playgrounds, and trails where Wood Glen Vista Creek enters the San Diego River. Learn more.

  • Edgemoor Barn: a historical building in Santee near the River that features a museum and is the home of the Santee Historical Society. There is also a native plant garden. Learn more.

Mission Trails Regional Park
  • This major urban open space park has a lot to offer, from great trails, a visitors center, camping and day use, and wonderful historical and cultural sites. Located at One Father Junipero Serra Trail. For more information about visiting the park, click here.

Mission Valley and Old Town
  • Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala: The site of the first church in California, founded in 1769. Museum and gift shop. Located at 10818 San Diego Mission Road. Click here for more information. /

  • Department of Fish and Game Preserve: 30 acre preserve located at Ward Road and Camino del Rio N. No facilities, street parking available.

  • San Diego River Garden: The San Diego River Garden features picnic tables, demonstration gardens and native plants, and trails. Located at approximately 3334 Camino Del Rio N. Learn more.

  • San Diego River Trail in Mission Valley: the trail through the section called FSDRIP between Fashion Valley Road and Qualcomm Way is complete, and great for walking, jogging, and biking. Call us for more information about where to go: (619) 297-7380

  • Mission Valley YMCA: Large recreation facility serving the community for 25+ years. Fee for membership. Located at: 5505 Friars Road.

  • Sefton Park: City of San Diego park with ball fields and the entrance to Cottonwood Grove in the Mission Valley Preserve. Located at the west end of Hotel Circle Place.

  • Mission Valley Preserve: This 52 acres wildlife preserve is dedicated as a City of San Diego Park. There are multiple ways to access the Preserve. There is a north entrance located near the intersection of Friars Rd. and Napa Street, which features an interpretive garden and loop trails, plus picnic table and benches (no restroom). The south entrance is at the west end of Sefton Park (described above) at Cottonwood Grove, which features a river overlook loop trail and picnic benches.

  • Presidio Park: This 50 acre park is considered to be the West Coast’s Plymouth Rock. This is the original site of the first California Mission. Important Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and early American historic site with a museum, trails, picnic areas, and special events. Located at 2727 Presidio Drive. Learn more.

  • Old Town San Diego State Historic Park: One of the most popular state parks in California. Visitors can experience life like it was between 1821 and 1872. During this period, San Diego was part of Mexico and then the United States. There is lots to do: museums and visitor center, interpretive opportunities, stores, restaurants, events, and even a theater. Free. There are several entrances and you can access the park from the Old Town Transit Station. Stop by the Robinson - Rose House to get orientated, and learn more.

I-5 to Ocean Beach and Point Loma
  • Point Loma Native Plant Garden: native plant garden open to the public. Explore some native varietals, Baja California and island plants. Located in Collier Park, entrance at the corner of Mendocino Blvd. and Greene Street. Learn more.

  • Famosa Slough: This 37 acre coastal wetland is well-known as a birding spot. Located at West Point Loma Blvd. and Famosa Blvd. Learn more.

  • Southern Wildlife Preserve: A part of Mission Bay Park, the Southern Wildlife Preserve is a 300 acre coastal wetland that includes much of the San Diego River estuary. Bike paths on the north and south side of the River, and excellent birding. Learn more.

  • San Diego River Mouth: The San Diego River Mouth features interpretive signs loop trails. Located at the west end of Voltaire Street. Learn more.

  • Dog Beach: The original dog beach! 38 acre unleashed dog area located at the Mouth of the San Diego River. Learn more.


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