Los Pensaquitos Canyon Preserve


Land Manager: 

  • City of San Diego
  • County of Sand Diego
  • some Del Mar Mesa holdings by California Departmento of Fish and Wildlife and others


Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, known locally at PQ, is home to the most popular trail system in the county. Many miles of multi-use trails and old ranch roads allow trail users to explore the canyon from creekside trails, multiple bridge crossings and venture even futures into the surrounding open space of Del Mar Mesa, Carmel Mountain Preserve and more.  Surrounded by houses on most every side the canyon provides locals the opportunity for trails right out their front doors.   

SDMBA has been involved in advocacy and trail improvement efforts at PQ for decades. While most of the canyon is managed by the City of San Diego, portions are owned and managed by the County of San Diego, California Department of Fish and Wildlife among others.  

SDMBA works with the rangers each year to set priorities for trail work and other projects.  Regular maintenance on trails such as the Duck Pond Connector (affectionately known as “The Sh*ts”), Cobbles, various steam crossings and other locations.  We look forward to future work which may include improvements and erosion control on Lopez Canyon, connector trails on the south side of PQ Canyon other planned connectors.  In 2022, SDMBA rebooted the Trail Bell program and a volunteer Trail Ambassador program which includes hikers and mountain bikers who do regular patrols of PQ and Black Mountain Open Space Park.  There are also two bike tool stations maintained by SDMBA.  One is at the top of the Power Line Climb on Del Mar Mesa and the other is along the Trans-County Trail on the way to Poway. 

Find details about past accomplishments in the greater Penasquitos Area below:

Wagon Wheel Bridge: 

The Wagon Wheel Crossing is the western most stream crossing in Penasquitos Canyon. The swing bridge was built in 2015 as Eagle Scout Project.  It served it’s purpose well for several years but eventually was in need of replacement.  In late 2022, thanks to individual donations and some funding from the City of San Diego, SDMBA was able to bring this bridge back to it’s former glory.  

Barrel Roll Trail:
The Barrel Roll Trail is the newest trail in the PQ/Del Mar Mesa area completed in late 2022.  This alignment from the east of Tunnel One Trail was originally proposed back in 2010. It took mitigation, planning, coordination, evaluation, and the long awaited competition of the Camino Del Sur extension down to Park Village to move forward.  This trail was built by SDMBA and a ready group of volunteers over two different build days. Yep, you read that correctly. 12 years of planning to complete a trail in 2 days!  While this trail is measured in feet rather than miles, it creates a crucial link that creates new options for routes in the PQ area. 

Carson's Crossing Project - Girl Scout Gold Award Project 

Del Mar Mesa Trail Access:
Del Mar Mesa continues to be a focus of long term trail advocacy undertaken by SDMBA as the area is under high levels of attention by conservation groups as the area is highly sensitive habitat. The challenging balance of recreation and conservation is on full display in the area.

In 2014, SDMBA pushed the City of San Diego to finish a management plan that had been shelved for nearly seven years. The approval came on the heels of enforcement by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) on their parcels of ownership within the Del Mar Mesa property. Many individuals received tickets during this enforcement period.  The City Open Space Division had just applied for a grant to provide more enforcement on the City owned portion of Tunnels at Del Mar Mesa. This was especially unpopular with the trail user community due to the potential enforcement being on trails that would someday be open to use, but just hadn’t been codified in the plan. In mid 2014, the management plan was finally completed and off  someone’s desk where it had been living for years waiting for approval by the City.

In mid 2015, the management plan was approved by the City of San Diego.  Before we could celebrate, it was quickly realized the approval for portions of the trails needed to go to the California Coastal Commission. The City attempted for several months delayed the approval of small sections of trail until they could get it reviewed and approved by the Coastal Commission. In late 2015, the plan was finally approved by the Coastal Commission, but user confusion over the trails plan was evident. The legal trails had been opened, then closed and then reopened again leading to frustration on the part of trail users.  People showed up in droves to ride new trail and were confused by the changes and, in large part, were also riding additional trails the City was attempting to permanently close. In addition, during the seven years the City had been sitting on this plan, they were unable to secure an easement that connected Tunnel Four to Switchbacks, back up to the Mesa. This was important as they had closed several other trails that provided loops and pointed to this loop as the only viable option.  

Deer Canyon Connector: 
In late July of 2019, the San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA) completed a desperately needed and long fought trail addition in the Del Mar Mesa. The newest section of connecting loop was completed through Deer Canyon which lies west of the area known as Tunnels. This route through Deer Canyon created a legal loop back up to the Mesa by way of the Switchback Trail. The land in Deer Canyon will be turned over to the City of San Diego ensuring long term access and trail connectivity.  

 In 2016 and 2017, SDMBA worked hard to push the City to prioritize this alignment and acquisitions in this area and some progress was made. Pardee Homes turned over some of its mitigation land to the City that secured an eastern piece of Deer Canyon. Negotiations also continued between the City and the large private owner in Deer Canyon.  An option for a trail connection was offered by the owner, but it was not sustainable nor viable. Sometime in 2018, we found out the owner had passed away and the property was listed for sale. The parcel of 30 acres were purchased by Caltrans/Sandag. This was perhaps the best scenario, as this property could have been sold for commercial development or home building. There has been extensive restoration of native plants in this area as well. 

 In 2018-19 the trail came close to legal as it was called for in the management plan for Del Mar Mesa and all the community plans. The only catch was that winter was brutal and the creek that ran next to the trail ran high, reducing the trail to only a couple of inches wide in spots. SDMBA Trails Coordinator, Ben Stone and three experienced and brave volunteers worked to cut a new trail through a wall of poison oak over two days in June of 2019.  The work would realign the trail and provide a sustainable option that met the City’s trail standards. In 48 hours, this crew cut and finished about 250 feet of trail that will be ready to ride legally before the end of 2019. Work was expedited with the use of SDMBA’s mini excavator and power wheelbarrow. The poison oak was old growth and extremely healthy. Even though extensive precautions were taken regarding protection, disinfecting and Tecnu/pre Tencu, everyone suffered the effects of a savage rash. 

Nearly two decades of work went into these trails including advocating, building and maintenance.  We are now seeing some resolution to projects started nearly 20 years ago. It's important to remember the rewards of today are from seeds of advocacy planted years ago and continually addressed until there is some progress towards a successful resolution. 

Appendix Trail
Allen Kashani of Pardee Homes came to SDMBA in the fall of 2015 looking for assistance in building a single track trail in canyons of one of their recent developments on Del Mar Mesa.  The houses were built upon an area loved by many riders for a trail system formerly known as The Intestines.  Many riders were saddened upon the development of the property.  This new quarter mile Appendix trail pays homage to and set in the canyons below the original location of the now lost trails. This was one of the first ventures between SDMBA and a developer.  The build was financed by Pardee construction but completely overseen by SDMBA under the leadership of Trail Liaison Matt Bartelt and built by over 100 dedicated volunteers contributing more than 600 hours time to complete the trail in one build season.

In the late fall of 2015, trail leads met with the Pardee representatives, biologists, and landscapers to scope out the work.  The best path, allowing for distance, grade, and sensitive habitat was laid out with flagging tape.  In spring of 2016, a 4 foot wide corridor was cut through heavy brush following the flagging tape.  The first build day was part of the IMBA's Trail Care Crew.  Half of the day was dedicated to teaching new builders as well as city staff the proper techniques for building sustainable trails.  About 1/4 of the trail was cut this day.  Over the coming weeks, multiple one day builds attracted people from all over San Diego.  Bike riders, equestrians, hikers, students, private citizens, and city officials all lent elbow grease to complete the task.  Pardee graciously provided irrigation to assist in the completion of a section of trail that became too dry and hard to effectively cut and mold into a trail.  It was a perfect storm of cooperation.  

By late spring the trail was complete and word of the trail spread fast.  The ribbon cutting was attended by city officials, Rangers, Pardee officials and SDMBA representatives.  The mood of cooperation forged in this project has spread to other areas of the city.  It has helped create a good relationship between the City of San Diego, Pardee Homes, and SDMBA that helps forge new trail opportunities to this day.  Seen as a positive in a community that saw trail contractions only a few years before, the trail is a welcome addition to the Los Penasquitos trails system.