Home Ride Guides Elfin Forest

We meet every third Wednesday of the month @  7 pm  at Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center.

Check the Event Calendar for the next meeting.

SDMBA Events Calendar

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Elfin Forest PDF Print E-mail

Elfin Forest Recreational ReserveEFRR Entrance

The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve is located at 8833 Harmony Grove Rd. in Escondido California. The park contains approximately 750 acres located within the Olivenhain Municipal Water District. The park offers moderate elevation changes, scenic mountain views to the east and ocean views to the west. You will also find a variety of wildlife among the coastal sage-scrub and chaparral.

Over the last couple of years, SDMBA has been actively involved with trail maintenance and the development of new trails at Elfin Forest. The next scheduled trail work is Saturday October 24, 2009. For more information, click on the Event Guide tab above. For more information on our past trail work events see the Trail Work section below.

Currently, Elfin Forest has approximately 17 miles of mountain biking, hiking and equestrian trails. Since the trails are considered “multi-use”, SDMBA recommends using a Bear Bell to warn equestrians and hikers of your approach (See the SDMBA article “Make Friends on the Trail”). Remember, if you encounter equestrians on the trail, all cyclists must dismount their bikes in the immediate vicinity of horses.

Elfin Forest is considered an intermediate ride due to the elevation change and moderate technical challenges. This is an out-and–back ride with several loops at the top.


The park opens at 8:00 am every day except Christmas day and days affected by rain or inclement weather. The park closes approximately 30 to 45 minutes before sunset. Unauthorized use outside the posted hours is considered trespassing per P.C. 602.


There are two parking lots at the park entrance off Harmony Grove Road. Parking is limited, so carpooling is highly recommended.


There are restrooms and drinking water available at the main entrance and at two other locations within the park.

Trail Work:


Performed trail maintenance on the Way-Up-Trail by adding trail features to help keep riders at a safe speed.


Helped with the design of the Hodges Overlook Loop Trail.


Helped with the design of the Cielo Trail and also performed trail maintenance at the top of the Way-Up Trail. 


Repaired the two switchbacks located on the Lake Hodges Overlook Trail (see related trail work article and photos).


For 2008, SDMBA volunteers contributed 138 hours to the Elfin Forest trail work events. The first event was held on March 15 (click here for event report) and the second was October 25 (click herefor event report).


This year’s SDMBA Spring trail work at Elfin Forest was a huge success thanks to the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew and the 37 SDMBA trail work volunteers (click here for event report).

The next scheduled trail work is Saturday October 24, 2009. For more information, click on the Event Guide tab above.

If you would like to learn more about volunteering for trail work or the next trail work event please see the “Trail Work” tab on the left or the “Event Guide” tab at the top right. 


Park Update:

The connection to the Del Dios Highlands County Preserve is now open. The Del Dios Highlands Trail is a connector trail (it's actually a graded dirt and gravel road) connecting Del Dios Highway to Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. You can find the trail head at the top of the Quail Trail (15) where it connects with the park maintenance road (11). The trail descends 800-ft in 1.4 miles with the grade exceeding 20% on the top half. For more information, see the Ride Guide for the Del Dios Highlands County Preserve.


The rangers have recently reworked the tread on the Cielo Trail (25) removing most of the loose gravel. If you haven't ridden this trail recently you might want to give it another try.  

 Del Dios Highlands Trail Entrance

Del Dios Highlands Trail entrance
from Elfin Forest 


(Note: the numbers listed in the following paragraphs coordinate to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Trail Map.)The Way Up Trail

Starting at the Harmony Grove main entrance (1), “The Way-Up Trail” (7) starts at an elevation of 492 ft and climbs 600 ft in the first 1.3 miles. The Way-Up Trail contains at least 14 switchbacks and several water bars and other trail features to help control erosion and traffic. Even though the trail gains 600 ft in elevation and has several trail features, it is possible to conquer it without putting your foot down. Once you have reached the top of the “The Way-Up Trail” you have three main trails; the Lake Hodges Overlook Trail to the east, the Cielo Trail to the south, and the Equine Incline Loop Trail to the west.

We recommend turning left on to the park maintenance gravel road (11) and traveling a short distance to the “Quail Trail” (15), on your left. The Quail Trail climbs up through the chaparral letting you bypass the climb up the ultra wide maintenance road.  Once you’ve reached the top (approx. 1200 ft elev.) you will continue southeast along the maintenance road until you reach the “Escondido Overlook” (16) picnic area where you have great views of the Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir. Continue along the maintenance road until you reach the entrance to The Lake Hodges Overlook Trail (17) where you will go downhill to the lake shore and then start climbing again until you reach the Lake Hodges Overlook. From the top of the Lake Hodges Overlook (18) you can see Lake Hodges and the Laguna mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Adjacent to the Lake Hodges Overlook is the Lake Hodges Overlook Loop Trail (19), which was design with help of SDMBA volunteers. The trail is a one-way loop that contains some elevation change, rocky sections and two very tight switchbacks.

Once you’re back on the park maintenance road continue southwest to the other two main trails which are the Cielo Trail (out and back) and the Equine Incline Loop Trail. If you want to avoid some of the gravel road, make a left turn toward the Ridgetop Picnic Area (10) where you can pickup Tykes Hike Trail (12) and then the Mariposa Trail (13). Note, at the end of the Mariposa trail you’ll have to climb at least 45 stone steps to get back up to the park maintenance road.

At the end of the park maintenance road is the Cielo Trail (25), which is an out-and-back trail that takes you down to the base of the dam. Once at the bottom of the trail, take some time to admire the massive 1/2 mile long by 318-ft tall concrete dam. If you need a little motivation for the climb back up to the top of the Cielo Trail, just remember, there are about the eight billion gallons of water just on the other side of the dam.

Just before the end of the park maintenance road is the Manzanita Trail (23) which takes you to the Elfin Forest Overlook (22), the highest scenic overlook point in the park at 1346 ft.  From here you can pick up the Equine Incline Loop Trail (20).  At this point you might want to consider putting on your armor because the first part of the Equine Incline Loop Trail is a rocky descent. Exit the Elfin Forest Overlook to the northwest and make a left onto the Equine Incline Loop Trail. The trail is approximately 2.5 miles with a 500’ elevation change. The trail will take you back to the top of the Way-Up Trail. The Equine Incline Loop is not a one-way trail so be alert for oncoming traffic.

As you head back down the Way-Up Trail be careful not to speed or skid your back tire. Skidding erodes and destroys trails. Also be aware that the Way-Up Trail is the most popular trail in the park and can be very busy with hikers, especially on weekends and holidays. Watch your speed and use a bell, which will be appreciated by other users.


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