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Hidden Hiking Gems of San Diego


With our busy lives and limited time, patients ask, “Where can I go locally to find joy in nature?” Some of my patients say, “I don’t have time off from work, or doggie daycare, or the extra money to travel right now,” so I compiled some of my favorite places for adventure, relaxation, and fun right here in our backyard of San Diego.

Especially in times of change, stress levels run high resulting in various symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, physical symptoms, and fatigue.  Some of the best medicines are getting outdoors, spending time with friends and family, and exercise.  An article investigating the benefits of hiking in nature compared to city walking found that hiking in forest settings decreased stress hormones, reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and increased the calming part of the nervous system (Park et al., 2010).

The first spot I recommend for being in a forest environment without the several-hour drive to Big Bear is Elfin Forest.

Here you will encounter botanical guided trails, various oak trees alongside a flowing creek. This walk is suitable for all family members. For those that want more adventure and difficulty, the courses here will not disappoint.  I also recommend hugging a tree, asking for its wisdom, or using it to support a handstand. Turning your body upside down is a great way to change your perspective and connect to your inner being.

The next spot is Los Peñasquitos Creek Trail.

I love this hike because you can choose to be enveloped in nature and walk along the creek on a single-lane dirt trail perfect for trail running. I hardly encounter others on this trail; more often, horses greet me. Or you can take the smoother and larger path suitable for families and strollers. This trail ends at a waterfall where you can take a quick dip to cool off during a hot summer day.

Big Laguna Trail is a day-long adventure.

The hike reminds me of my hometown in Massachusetts, with tons of evergreen trees filling the forest. During this hike, you will experience beautiful lakes, trees, camping, wildlife, spectacular views, and wildflowers.  Sit down, take a deep, cleansing breath, breathe in the healing powers of nature.

Cuyamaca Peak Loop Trail is located on the outskirts of San Diego County.

The lightly traveled trail is full of views of pine forests, rivers, and blossoming flowers. I enjoy the beauty of this trail; it brings me inner peace because of its solitude allowing me to reflect on the day’s journey and embrace the energy.

Tecolote Canyon Trail is a moderate trail that has many options for all different severity of hikes.

Many trail options, many of them being doggy-friendly, are one of my favorite aspects of this hidden gem. This hike consists of rivers, beautiful views, and another favorite activity: meditating and connecting with mother nature.

I’m ending with a trail closer to the city, Marian Bear Trail.

Although it is close to the town, it is still full of animals, wildflowers, trees, and dirt paths. I feel like I’m in the middle of a forest with shade from trees in grassy fields. This short 3-mile hike is the perfect spot for a picnic in nature during a lunch break.

My favorite way to end a hiking day is sitting under the eucalyptus trees, looking down the cliff at La Jolla Scripps pier watching the setting sun.

I discovered some of the best hikes all over CA using the All Trails app. I recently used it in Big Bear, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, all incredible places to hike while staying local.

At Hills, we offer group therapy that incorporates walking in nature. Walking and exposure to nature as a group start the nervous system’s healing process, calms the mind-body, and provides interpersonal support for a healing journey.

Happy Hiking,

Dr. Kellie Delli Colli

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