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Best Summer Hiking Trails in San Diego

If you find yourself in San Diego for the summer, you will most likely be spending a lot of your time outdoors. It’s hard to ignore the gorgeous coastal landscape of this SoCal city. Not to mention, San Diego whale watching is at its peak in the summer months. So, where should you begin?

Is San Diego Known for Hiking?

Short answer: yes. Ranging from cliffs and canyons to forests, there is no shortage of ecosystems to explore. For example, along the coast, you can find some amazing views on the trails at Sunset Cliffs. This 68-acre park is a go-to spot for surfers and features tidal pools and the chance to spot a whale, which is a big draw for a lot of hikers.


Whales can be tricky to notice if you’ve never seen one before from a distance. Follow these tips to learn how to spot whales from shore:

  • Scan slowly, in one direction, close to the horizon. This will allow you to easily spot silhouettes against the sky.

  • Look for movement, rather than whales themselves. Whales often only come to the surface briefly. A spray of water from their blowhole or the tip of their tail flitting above the surface as they dive may be the first sign of their presence.

  • Pay attention to boats. Some boats on the water are looking for whales or will stop when they see one. Let them do the hard work of spotting a whale for you.

Easy to Difficult Hiking Trails

Not all the best hikes in San Diego are necessarily super difficult. There is a trail for every age, fitness level and mood in the vast network of hiking available in this wild region. The oceanfront Torrey Pines State Reserve is a great place to find some easy jaunts, such as the Razor Point Trail and Guy Fleming Trail. This huge reserve protects the namesake Torrey Pine tree and boasts excellent views of the water.


For more of a challenge, get ready to do some climbing. The Cowles Mountain Trail is the highest peak in the county and the most popular hiking spot in San Diego, and is perfect for a photo op. The steepest climb around is the Three Sisters Falls Trail, which is better suited to rock climbers. But, this hike rewards you with some refreshing swimming holes at the top.

What to Bring While Hiking

Never hit the trails without plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen– especially in the summer. You should also make sure that you have proper footwear and a head covering. Don’t forget a pair of binoculars for whale and bird watching, if those things interest you. It’s always a good idea to let other people know where you are going, as well, just in case.


Don’t sleep on San Diego as a prime hiking destination. From exciting trails to the chance to spot a whale, nowhere else is like it. No matter your experience level, there is something for everyone. Gather your friends and start hitting the trails before the summer is over.

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