Please note: Mushroom Caves recently went under extensive restoration and the graffiti has since been removed. This hike is now known as Annie’s Canyon Trail and is even more enjoyable thanks to the countless hours spent preserving this site. Let’s all do our part to keep this trail clean and graffiti-free. For information on the newly renovated trail, please click here.
Mushroom Caves is a hidden San Diego hike awaiting to be explored by anyone living in or visiting America’s Finest City. It is not a well-known hike, in fact I had to do a lot of digging to find out exactly how to get there, however I was beyond pleasantly surprised adventuring this hidden gem.
If you’ve driven past Encinitas, you’ve likely noticed a lagoon. Right next to this lagoon, the San Elijo Lagoon to be exact, are the cliffs that encapsulate Mushroom Caves. From a distance, these caves look anything but enticing, however as you get closer, they will be unlike anything you have ever seen before. Decked in graffiti, Mushroom Caves screams adventure with its secret caves, delicate sandstone architecture, slot canyons, and carved out footsteps in the walls for climbers.
A few important things should be mentioned before getting into how to get to Mushroom Caves. First and foremost, this is technically a no trespassing zone. In fact, you will encounter several bright yellow signs along the way that say “No Trespassing”. I did not see anyone actively monitoring the area when I went in August 2015, however hike at your own risk. Second, this can be a dangerous hike if you do any climbing. The sandstone walls are fragile and you could be seriously injured, fall, misstep on a soft-spot and have it collapse, or fall to your death. Be extremely careful and take multiple friends with you. And lastly, please respect this location. Many have already used graffiti to deface it.
There are easier ways to get to Mushroom Caves — that require 5 to 10 minutes of hiking — but in order to preserve this landmark and make this a truly epic hike, I will only provide directions for the longer route.
To get to Mushroom Caves, exit Manchester Avenue (exit 39) and turn left. Park in the MiraCosta College parking lot. Cross the street and turn right, continuing until you see a gate for the San Elijo Lagoon. Proceed past the gate until you reach a second gate. Pass through this second gate and continue forward. You will follow this trail until you reach a fork where you can proceed left or right. Veer right, following the path the hugs the water and takes you towards the Interstate 5 freeway overpass.
Note: What I found with this hike is you always choose right when there is a fork in the road and if you are ever in doubt for this first portion, always follow the trails that lead toward the freeway.
After you follow the trail beneath the highway, the San Elijo Lagoon and the sandstone cliffs that contain Mushroom Caves will come into view. I stopped here to capture a few pictures because the sights were truly stunning. After a few pictures I proceeded forward until I reached yet another fork in the trail. You could either continue forward or veer right. Once again, veer right and follow the path towards the sandstone cliffs.
When you come across a defaced pile of wood with a pink arrow pointing to the left, this is the first and only time on the trail to Mushroom caves that you will turn left. Follow the graffiti and several yellow “No Trespassing” signs and you will shortly be at the entrance of Mushroom Caves.
From here, there is a very narrow slot canyon to the right. This area is difficult to climb and there were many unstable areas when climbing. When I got to the top, while the view was impressive, it wasn’t really worth the effort of contorting my body through the narrow wedges and I ended up with scratches and bruises. I probably wouldn’t venture here, unless you are really tiny individual and want to take on the risk.
Instead, walk across the makeshift wood bridge to get to the better part of Mushroom Caves. Here is where you will encounter the wider slot canyons, secret caves, carved out footholds for climbing (there is even a rope to aid with climbing), and majority of the graffiti designs. Some of the “artwork” is impressive but at the same time is a welcome reminder that this natural land has now been tarnished due to people who were bored.
If you choose to climb to the top of Mushroom Caves, you can take in sweeping views of the beach and city of Encinitas from above. It was really breathtaking, but again dangerous to get to the top.
After you’ve had your fix exploring the ins and outs of Mushroom Caves, follow the same path out to get back to the start of the trailhead. Remember that this time around you will be veering mostly left when you come to forks and towards the college.
Ventured to Mushroom Caves? I want to hear your thoughts!
Mushroom Caves Tips:
Tip 1: Park in the MiraCosta College parking lot. Parking here is free on Sundays. For parking information on other days of the week, click here.
Tip 2: Pack plenty of water and food. I made the mistake on this hike of not packing enough food and water, not realizing how much energy I expended climbing and venturing different parts of Mushroom Caves.
Tip 3: Bring a backpack. It can get annoying trying to explore/climb if you are carrying a water bottle/camera/phone in your hand.
Tip 4: Wear sunscreen, layers of clothing as most of this hike you will be directly exposed to the sun.
Tip 5: Do not litter or deface any of this property. The caves are already vandalized enough as it is.
Tip 6: Tack on an additional hour onto your hiking time for exploring the area. It is easy to get side tracked and mesmerized in the unique sights that will surround you.
Trail Difficulty: Easy
Trail Total Distance: 4 Miles
Trailhead Address: 3333 Manchester Ave, Cardiff, CA 92007