Google Earth: The Way up Trail
Distance: 1.56 miles one way. Gain of 876 feet.
Time to Complete the hike: 25-45 min one way depending on fitness levels, children, dogs, etc..
Is this hike suitable for children: It sure it, first off there is a neat interpretive center at the bottom that kids will get a kick out of. Its a easy to moderate hike, and not to long, so your kids won’t get to bored. There are bathrooms at the bottom of the hike and bathrooms at the top of the hike. There is water at the top as well. All in all this felt like one of the best hikes for family’s that I’ve been on in a while.
Is this hike suitable for dogs: Yes, easy to moderate hike. Shade structures along the way. Water at the top, and not to long of a hike.
Parking: There is a nice sized parking lot at the Interpretive Center just before the trail entrance.
Getting there: From the 15 freeway take the West Valley Parkway exit. Turn left and go under the overpass heading south west. Continue on West Valley Parkway until you see either 9th or 11th street, either street it doesn’t matter. Take a right on either 9th or 11th street, after turning right head down S Hale Ave ( which will be extremely short if you turn on 11th) and turn right onto Harmony Grove Road. Head over the wash and turn left onto Harmony Grove Road ( weird huh?), continue for 2.8 miles on Harmony Grove Road until you see the Parking Lot on your left for Elfin Forest. Here you will find the trail head.
Printable Map: http://olivenhain.com/files/docs/Park/trail-map2010.pdf
If you have kids and get a chance to come here during the hours when the interpretive center is open ( 9am to 3pm Thursday through Sunday) I would urge you to do so, I think its a pretty cool experience for the kids. Inside the interpretive center they have water taken from the creek and a microscope hooked up to a large monitor so that you can see what’s in the water. Fly larva, small shells and other crawling critters will fascinate your kids. On display are different animals that call this area home as well as local flora native to the San Diego Region. Its a real interesting display. After you are done checking all of this out and you are ready for the hike, head across to where the bathrooms are located and there you will see a large map of the hiking area with mileage for each trail (this is an exact copy of the pdf map that is linked above). Start up on the ” Way up Trail”, you will cross a creek on a cute little bridge and the trail starts immediately on the other side. I’ve noticed a box for hiking sticks at the start of the trail but never any hiking sticks inside of the box. The hike up hill starts right away.There are mile markers placed every quarter mile so you can keep track of how far you have gone as well as the elevation you have climbed, these are some of the coolest mile markers I have ever seen.
Soon after you see the first .25 mile marker you will see a trail towards your left, this is the Botanical Trail that heads back towards the staging area on a meandering .6 mile long trail. During the wetter months you may see a lot of cool native flora with corresponding poles that have QR codes attached to them so you can look them up, there are also maps at the bottom of the trail that have all the plants listed by number with descriptions. Right after you pass the top entrance to the botanical trail you will see a large sign with a heat index for dogs along with a corresponding temperature and humidity gauge overhead so that you can see if its safe to take your dog on the trail, this is a cool idea and I’ve never seen it anywhere else in San Diego, they should have these on all the major trails, my one suggestion is that they should be towards the beginning of the hike and not partway through it so that you can decide before you start the hike.
As you continue to go up the trail, you will find the trail is a little rocky, its the one thing that I used to hate about the Cowles Mountain trail which isn’t as bad now since they spent 2 months restoring the trail. There are a few switchbacks, but they tend to be far apart making the trail feel very easy going. There is a shade structure and stone bench about 3/4 the way up the trail, giving those who need it a nice place to sit a spell before continuing on. Not to long after the 1 mile marker you will see a sign letting you know that it is ok to take your dog off of the leash as long as you have good verbal control over your pooch. Not to long after this point the trail evens out and your pretty much at the top of the elevation. The trail continues up to the point where you have a major split.
If you decide to go left you will find yourself on a service road that will eventually connect into the Del Dios Highland County Preserve which will connect into the Del Dios Highway, or the 5 mile loop to the Lake Hodges Overlook. If you take a right, the trail will take you along the western side of the Olivenhain Dam to the Ray Brooks Overlook and another access road ( Pso Del Los Suenos) that leads outside of the park towards the Celio Housing Development. If you head straight ahead from the trail split you will see the picnic area. The picnic area has a view of the lake, limited shade, but does have bathrooms (port-a-potties), a drinking fountain, and picnic tables to sit at.