Day Hike Elfin Forest

San Diego Elfin Forest

Added by Dane

  • Amazing view of Lake Hodges
  • Creek viewing areas
  • Botanical garden trails
  • Beautiful lush trees

Elfin Forest is one of the most beautiful and unique trails in all of San Diego, CA. The parking is free as well as the overflow parking area. There is an Interpretive Center located in the staging area where you can speak to park rangers, learn about the wildlife and trail locations. The parking area and Interpretive Center is open from 8:00am-7:30pm.

The trail head begins at the Escondido Creek at 492ft elevation. The creek runs year round from Lake Wohlford to the Pacific Ocean. There are beautiful streams and small waterfalls that are easily accessible for viewing.

Beginning the hike to the top you can either take the Botanical Garden trail or the Way Up trail. If you decide to take the Botanical Garden trail be sure to grab a map at the Interpretive Center so you can locate the many listed species on the trail.

The Way Up trail (1.41 miles) is moderately steep and has a few picnic resting stops along the way with shade. It is still rideable up hill either mountain biking or horseback riding. Once the switchbacks end you continue on a flat wide trail until you hike your last hill (50 yds) to the Lake Hodges Overlook 1.200ft). The view of Lake Hodges is unbeatable.

On your way back be sure to stop at the picnic area just below the overlook where you can find restrooms and a much needed water fountain. The staff and rangers are super friendly and go above and beyond to assure you have a great experience. Be sure to bring plenty of drinking water with you. As this trail is in Escondido it can get hot and dry in the afternoons.

Pack List

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Running Shoes / Hiking boots (preferably waterproof)
  • Camera
  • Leash for dogs
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Chillin, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Year Round



Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Picnic Area

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How to Get There

8 months ago

Beautiful Area!

This hike is a must do! I'm currently training for doing some 14ers in Colorado and this is a great hike for anyone, there is a great network of trails to combine for any level of outdoor enthusiast. There is a large variety of wildlife around from rattlesnakes, birds, bees and squirrels so you get a bit of everything. The actually forest part at the beginning of the trail is beautiful, there are bathrooms at the top and many areas to stop and rest on the way up. Be sure to take plenty of water although it's not a long hike you are exposed for a majority of it and it gets warm in that area. Have fun and just enjoy the outdoors!!

8 months ago

8 months ago

Running Water. Beautiful Views!

We (me 6 months pregnant, 7 yr old son and 1 yr old puppy) hiked the way up trail from the first parking lot around 2 pm and enjoyed the great hike and exploration. It was a sunny day and got pretty hot on the way up but if you bring lots of water you'll be good :) Got to the first lookout and decided to keep going to see the reservoir, which we totally recommend since it's only a few more switchbacks up to the top :) Porta potties were cleaning and they have hoses with fresh water. Son and puppy had the most fun down at the trail jumping across the rocks and playing in the water stream. Totally recommend for a great day of bonding :)

8 months ago

9 months ago

Great Workout

The distance isn't very long but the effort it takes to climb the steep hillside makes it a good workout. Pretty views your whole way up.

9 months ago

9 months ago

Fun and convenient

This hike has easy access and well maintained paths. We used to hike it weekly as a workout with our crew just be careful can be busy on the weekend and during the summer there are a high chance for rattlers.

9 months ago

10 months ago

Very Relaxing, Would Be A Great Trail Run

We hiked up to the top and then came back down using the Botanical garden trail and it was such a cool hidden gem in SoCal.

10 months ago

12 months ago

Beautiful Spot

We took the Up and Up route instead of the Botanical Trail and got to enjoy some great views along the switchbacks. While there weren't any left when we got there at noon, there was a box next to the bridge for sharing hiking sticks. That thoughtfulness mirrored the community I observed along the way.

12 months ago

about 1 year ago

A Forest in SD

hard to imagine but this little pocket of awesomeness is so removed from everything else, it's hard to imagine you are in San Diego. Go here after work (before the time changes) and you'll be so happy you did.

about 1 year ago

Added by Dane


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