For a break, take a hike

    Is there life off campus and away from the beach? If loud music or alcoholic drinks don’t appeal, try reinvigorating yourself with the natural beauty of San Diego.

    Inland San Diego is abundant with nature; Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve, Torrey Pines State Reserve and the Marian R. Bear Memorial Park each provide a break from the city.

    The Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve’s trail is a great destination for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. California live oaks and sycamores and more than 500 species of plants, 140 avian and reptile types, and countless amphibians and fish live on the park’s 3,270 acres of terrain.

    In and around the canyon, visitors can find acorn woodpecker holes in pieces of bark, animal tracks in the mud, coast prickly pears, coyote bushes and black sage. Keep in mind though, the park is also home to rattlesnakes, mountain lions, poison oak and rough terrain. Because parks of this sort are so rare in San Diego, their preservation is imperative, and all visitors are required to leave the park just as it looked when they found it. All dogs must be leashed, and, of course, cleaned up after, and guns of any sort are prohibited. It is best to wear a comfortable pair of hiking boots or tennis shoes, put on some sunscreen and bring plenty of water.

    From UCSD, take Interstate 5 north to Highway 56 east, take the Black Mountain Road exit and turn right. The Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve is at the bottom of Black Mountain Road across from the horse park.

    Located between La Jolla and Del Mar, Torrey Pines State Reserve features eight miles of trails, a visitor center and guided nature walks on weekends and holidays. Out on the trails, there are panoramic views of the reserve, ocean, lagoon and inland areas. Hikers are able to enjoy the native Torrey Pine trees, one of North America’s most uncommon pines. Only two native stands exist: one in coastal San Diego and the other on Santa Rosa Island near Santa Barbara. Hikers may also observe California poppies, the state wildflower, coast cholla, and more than 400 species of native flora across the 2,000-acre reserve. Countless species of birds and insects also inhabit the reserve. Park rangers suggest staying on designated trails, and smoking, picnics, dogs and horses are prohibited. No bicycles are allowed on the trails and the collection of pine cones or wild flowers of any kind is not tolerated, as these items must be left to produce seeds to grow new plants and provide food for animals.

    Grab a bottle of water, a hat, sunscreen and a good pair of hiking shoes for the trails that cross those steep cliffs overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

    From UCSD, take Interstate 5 north to the Carmel Valley Road exit and drive west for about 1.5 miles to the Coast Highway 101. Turn left and proceed along the beach for about a mile. The park entrance is on the right just before the highway begins to climb the Torrey Pines grade. There is a $6 parking fee for any car entering Torrey Pines State Reserve. The reserve is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the Visitor Center opens daily at 9 a.m.

    The Visitor Center and Ranger Station are located in a building built in 1922. Originally called the Torrey Pines Lodge, it is now a showcase for different forms of wild animal and plant life that can be seen on the trails. Think of it as a preview before starting the hike. The building also provides information about the park, and souvenirs galore.

    Last but not least is the Marian R. Bear Memorial Park, a 467-acre natural-resource-based park in the heart of San Clemente Canyon, bounded by highways 5, 52 and 805. A kiosk at the entrance of the park includes information about birds, coyotes and various species of insects that can be found on the trails, and a fascinating diagram of the geology of San Clemente Canyon. The park consists of three miles of mostly flat trails along the length of the canyon that extend up into the center of Clairemont going east, and into Rose Canyon going north and south toward Pacific Beach. Within the park, more challenging hiking trails lead up to the mesa tops for those who want to test their strength. Giant oak and sycamore trees line the narrow trails, next to a creek that runs through the canyon. The trail extending toward Rose Canyon runs parallel with the train tracks, which provides a great diversion and change of scenery during a nature hike.

    A picnic area and bathrooms are also available just before the hiking trail begins, and the same rules that apply to the other parks are important for this delicate habitat: Most importantly, keep it clean. Bags are provided at the trail entrance for those who are walking their dogs. The park also allows bicyclists to enjoy the trails, but be forewarned that there are some very steep hills.

    From UCSD, take 5 south to 52 east and take the Clairemont Mesa Boulevard/Regents Road exit. Turn right on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and make an immediate right onto the road that leads to the parking lot of the park.

    These locations provide acres of lush chaparrals and tall, green hills just waiting to be admired. While San Diego’s weather has dampened the mood for outdoor activities of late, future days promise clearer skies for breathtaking views.

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