Nestled in the hills of the affluent city of Poway, the Lake Poway Recreation Area houses two of the most stunning trails in all of San Diego: the Mount Woodson Trail and Lake Poway Loop Trail. Additionally, this family-friendly outdoor attraction provides other activities such as fishing, boating, and even archery. Open seven days a week (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas day), the Lake Poway Recreation Area is a must-see area for San Diego residents and those visiting America’s Finest City.
After paying the $5 entrance fee (Poway residents are excluded from this price) at the entrance, park your car in the expansive parking lot. The Lake Poway Trail can be picked up in two different places. The first, is at the edge of the park which also doubles as the trail for the long trek up to Mount Woodson. The trail I’d recommend actually begins before you enter the Lake Poway Recreation Area. This route is less strenuous and saves the views of the lake for the second-half of your hike.
Backtrack away from the parking lot and the lake and walk along the paved road a short distance to find the Lake Poway Loop trailhead. The trailhead will be marked with a wooden kiosk ahead and an archery range to your left. Follow the trail forward and uphill to begin your trek. This will be the most strenuous part of your hike, but fear not as your ascent won’t last long. After your short uphill jaunt, the views of the man-made Lake Poway will come into view. If you wish, you can take some time to admire them at the beginning from a well-placed bench.
Continue to follow the trail away from the lake as you descend sharply down a series of switchbacks. The rock-fill Lake Poway Dam will appear in the distance, blocking your view of the lake as you make your way downhill. At the end of the switchbacks you’ll reach a fork in the road. One trail leads to the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve. The other trail to your right will have you continuing along the Lake Poway Loop Trail. Take this trail as you make a gradual ascent back uphill.
After about a 200 feet climb in elevation, you’ll find yourself walking along the lake’s east shore. Here is where you can take the wider trail above the lake and towards the Mount Woodson trail, or you can opt for taking the lower, single-track trail that closely hugs the lake. I’d highly recommend the lower trail for better views, less foot traffic, and prime lake-viewing opportunities. Continue along the shoreline for 1.5 miles until you reach a large, grassy area with a picnic area, concession stand, boat dock, and parking lot. Walk towards the parking lot to complete the full loop and return to your vehicle.
Lake Poway Loop Trail Tips
Tip #1: This hike has relatively no shade. Bring plenty of water, ample sunscreen, and sun-protection.
Tip #2: Do not leave your car in the parking lot past sunset. The gate locks and violators may receive a fine.
Tip #3: Check out the Mount Woodson Trail the next time you visit the Lake Poway Recreation Area for a longer, more strenuous hike.
Tip #4: Be prepared to spend $5 for parking. Cash or credit card accepted.
Tip #5: Beware of rattlesnakes on this trail, especially when it is warm outside. They are very prevalent in this area.
From downtown San Diego: Take 163N for 11.2 miles. Merge onto I-15N. Take exit 24 for Rancho Bernardo Road. Turn right onto Rancho Bernardo Road. Continue onto Espola Road. Turn left onto Lake Poway Road. Pay for parking (free for city of Poway residents) and park in the lot.
Total Distance: 2.8 miles
Trailhead Address: 14644 Lake Poway Road, Poway, CA 92064