Diving Deeper into Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Reconnect with Nature at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in North County San Diego

Elfin Forest San Diego

Photos by Hidden San Diego

In a county residing on countless canyons and hills, San Diego never fails to deliver on beautiful, scenic hiking spot filled with captivating mountains; that’s exactly what you’ll find at Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. According to the Olivehain website, its expansive 784-acre landscape “offers approximately 11 miles of hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails, [and] picnic areas,” making it a perfect family and pet-friendly venue to check out on the weekends.

It is located in the heart of North San Diego County, in the city of Escondido, and was first opened in 1992. This nature mecca was created by the Olivenhain Municipal Water District, the San Diego County Water Authority, and the U.S. Department of the Interior-Bureau of Land Management initially as a component to the Olivenhain Water Storage Project and the Authority’s Emergency Storage Project to protect the region from severe water supply shortages. The building of the dam and reservoir required a four-part process which took 9 years to create. The Olivehain Dam was constructed using roller-compacted concrete and was designed to remain fully functional during a magnitude 7.25 earthquake. 

According to the San Diego County Water Authority, the first water flowed into the reservoir in August 2003 and was created with a storage capacity of 24,000 acre-feet of water – enough water for a year for 50,000 families of four. The website also notes that the Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir was San Diego’s first major new dam and reservoir in 50 years. To this day, the water held in the reservoir is still reserved for emergency use for the entire county of San Diego. 

The reserve uses recreational opportunities as a way to give back to their community. One way they do this is by offering talks, workshops, classes, and educational hikes for nature enthusiasts of all ages. Additionally, group tours and student exploration programs are provided in an effort to promote environmental awareness, as well as preservation of local watersheds. All of which could be useful information for Californians whom are more susceptible to droughts and dry weather

The various hiking trails are great for beginners and avid hikers alike. The diverse paths range from easy to moderate in difficulty, and they are at a slight incline or relatively flat. Luckily, hiking sticks and bicycles bells are provided at the entrance for those in need of a little extra assistance. Please be advised that the sticks and bells are limited; hikers are encouraged to share and/or return them to other hikers. Additionally, the reserve is equipped with trash cans and doggy bag dispensers to help maintain the cleanliness of the natural habitat. There is a water fountain at the top of the hill, but it is highly recommend that you bring additional water and stay hydrated.   

The reserve resides amidst two intersecting valleys, both clustered with luscious green brush and chaparral. These valleys shelter a variety of extraordinary native plants and animals, many of which are endangered or on the threatened species list in California (and/or the US), making the scenery simply a wondrous sight to observe. Intertwining the breathtaking views and rare brush is the steady stream of the Escondido Creek, which flows year 'round from Lake Wohlford to the San Elijo Lagoon. 

Adjacent to the creek, is the hiking path which splits off into six various overlooks with either a shaded structure and/or table, making it a perfect place for a family picnic. These overlooks are notorious for their astounding views of the Pacific Ocean, Lake Hodges, Channel Islands, Coronado Islands, the Laguna and San Bernardino mountain ranges, and the Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir. But, if having to shlep your lunch while watching out for the kiddos isn’t for you, don’t worry; there’s a plethora of yummy eateries nearby to satisfy your grumbling stomach. 

After conquering your morning workout with a nice hike at Elfin Forest, try grabbing some lunch at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens. The name might be somewhat misleading, but they are in fact kid and family friendly. With a four star rating, you know this place won’t disappoint. This restaurant boasts carefully crafted brews, delicious food, and a rustic, laid-back ambiance. As far as the food goes, I recommend the roasted brussel sprouts or the homemade mac 'n cheese. 

Whether you grab a quick bite to eat afterwards or bring along a lunch, Elfin Forest is always a fun hike. Its serene beauty allows for anyone to easily connect with nature and to get away for some tranquil peace and quiet. Its ability to accommodate four-legged companions and young children makes this place a must-try for families looking for some, good, old-fashioned quality time. Be sure to check out their website for hours of operation and, last but not least, don’t forget the sunscreen