There are some weekends I find myself in a pinch for time. No matter how much I want to hop in my car and make the two hour plus drive to the desert, time doesn’t permit. Luckily, there are no shortage of places to hike in San Diego, near and afar. If you have a busy weekend but still want to get in a quick, convenient hike, I’d recommend one of the many urban trails in the Balboa Park Trails system.
In recent years, the City of San Diego constructed a urban-hike trail system through Balboa Park, showcasing some of the best views of the park and downtown San Diego. There are currently five entrance points for numerous trails: Sixth and Upas Trails Gateway, Golden Hills Gateway, Park Blvd. Trails Gateway, Morley Fields Trail Gateway, and Marston Point Trails Gateway. Each offers 3-4 trails varying in length and difficulty. The one I’ll cover here is Balboa Park Trail #13, the longest trail found at the Morley Fields Gateway.
Balboa Park Trail #13 begins at the Morley Fields Gateway, a quick 5-10 minute drive from downtown San Diego. To access this trail, park at the Morley Fields Sports Complex, which houses a number of sporting activities. In the center of the parking lot you’ll find a large blue sign that reads Morley Trails Gateway. Here, you’ll find a map of the trails that can be found here. I took a picture of this map to reference it along my hike and it was pretty useful given my poor navigation skills.
From the large blue sign, veer to the left on the cement path, passing the tennis courts on your left. Continue past the tennis courts where you’ll see the first marker for trail #13 in a yellow-orange color. Cross the road, looking for cars that may be driving down to the dog park. After crossing the road, you’ll come to a main road. Turn left and continue downhill on Florida Drive.
You’ll continue to follow Florida Drive, for close to a mile. Walking on Florida Drive will mostly consist of walking in the bike lane. Stay as far right as possible to make way for bikers that will likely pass you by, especially on weekends.
At the first intersection that leads up to the zoo, cross the street to the left side of the road to walk on a true dirt trail. This isn’t technically part of Balboa Park Trail #13, however it offers a nice break from walking on a paved road. While hiking here in the spring, the flowers were in full bloom and put on a spectacular display on the surrounding hillsides. Continue to follow this trail until you reach the intersection for Pershing Drive.
At Pershing Drive, veer left, continuing to follow the dirt trail uphill. This will be the most grueling part of your hike, with a slow but steady ascent all the way up the winding Pershing Drive. The trail will narrow on your way up, however it’s best to stick to the thin dirt path than risk walking on the shoulder of a busy street.
Once you pass the golf course on your right, the dirt trail will end and you’ll be forced to walk on the shoulder. Stick as close as you can to the left to stay safe. You’ll pass a garden, then Bird Park, where the paved sidewalk will begin once again. Next you’ll pass a disc golf course. This is the point where you’ll begin to realize your loop back to Morley Field will shortly be coming to an end.
Turn left at Upas Street, as indicated by arrows on the familiar yellow-orange #13 sign. Continue to follow Upas Street all the way to the Morley Field Sports Complex, passing a few more #13 signs along the way. When you reach the Morley Field Sports Complex, turn left into the parking lot to finish your urban hike.
Balboa Park Trail #13 Tips
Tip #1: Wear long pants. There are parts of the trail with overgrowth that can scratch your legs.
Tip #2: Take a picture of the trail map at the staging area. This will be helpful to reference if you get lost.
Tip#3: Hike with a friend or alone. You’ll see many people at the park, along your hike, and biking on this route, making this a safe solo hike option.
Tip#4: Leave your hiking boots at home. This path never becomes too technical. You’ll be fine in regular athletic shoes.
Tip #5: Visit the nearby Balboa Park after. At just under a mile away, stop by the museums, grab a bite to eat at the Prado, or simply admire the architecture at Balboa Park.
From Mission Valley, take CA-163 S for 3 miles. Take exit 2A toward Washington St E. Turn right onto 9th Ave (signs for Washington St). Use the right lane to turn right onto Washington St. In 0.3 miles, turn right onto Richmond St. In 0.7 miles turn left onto Upas St. In 0.2 miles turn right onto Park Blvd. Turn left onto Morley Field Drive. The desitnation will be on your right.
Total Distance: 3.3 miles
Trailhead Address: 2221 Morley Field Dr, San Diego, CA 92104