Rancho La Costa Preserve


Encompassing over 1600 acres, this stunning open space preserve located in east Carlsbad/west San Marcos, consists of rugged trails which switchback through sagebrush and chaparral.  Dominated at the center by Denk Mountain (elevation 1041), this high point of the preserve offers 360 degree views stretching to the ocean, distant inland mountains and deep into San Diego.  A self-serve bike maintenance station, compliments of the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, is located at the top. This preserve is managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management and SDMBA has partnered on trail improvements at La Costa for many years.  Read more...

Getting to the top:  If you wish to take the most direct route to the top try the lung-busting Denning Road (dirt) from San Elijo Hills Road access point or the Dove Tail Access Road (old pavement and gravel) from the Carlsbad side. The upper trails such as Whiptail, Horned Lizard and Switchbacks include sections of smooth dirt interrupted by punchy rock gardens, occasional ruts and 180 degree  turns.  They can be challenging to climb and descend for even the intermediate rider.  A full suspension bike offers the most comfort. The Drop Down trail, locally known as “NASCAR” is a downhill thrill for the experienced rider. Each of these trails run up the west side of Denk Mountain offering full sun exposure and an occasional sea breeze.

Bordering the southeast portion of the preserve is the historic Copper Creek Trail. Most easily accessed from the San Elijo Hills side of the preserve, this is a beginner-friendly trail for the first mile. This double track trail narrows to single track as it runs through the oak-lined valley; expect to cross the creek several times over small, but sturdy wooden bridges. Hikers often frequent this part of the trail.  In the summer months this section can be a shady refuge.  During the rainy months, this section of the trail can be closed due to muddy conditions. Copper Creek trail continues west onto “connector” trails that generally run along the powerlines near the western edge of the preserve.  These connector trails are usually gravel roads and are frequented by hikers and runners.

There is good trailhead signage at most access points.  Signposts mark the trail junctions throughout the preserve. Additional access trails just outside the perimeter of the preserve allow the rider to add on additional miles.  This preserve is managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. 

E-bikes and pedal assist are not allowed in the preserve.  Dogs must be leashed and are not allowed on Copper Creek Trail or Whiptail Trail.

TrailForks for Rancho La Costa Preserve