The river valley

From the mountains to the sea, the 55-mile-long San Dieguito River originates at Volcan Mountain in the Cleveland National Forest. From there, it meanders through Lake Sutherland, the San Pasqual Valley, Lake Hodges, the Del Dios Gorge, into the San Dieguito Lagoon and on to the river’s mouth at Del Mar. The river and its major tributaries flow through sensitive natural habitats, including oak and pine woodlands, sage scrub, and coastal wetlands, creating a network of critical wildlife habitats.

The San Dieguito River Park was established in 1989 and follows the 55-mile course of the river between the Pacific Ocean and Volcan Mountain, near Julian. More than 85 miles of trails through this regional greenway are open year-round to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. For more information about this trail system, visit the River Park’s website here.

Click on map to enlarge.

Volcan Mountain

Volcan Mountain is at the east end of the San Dieguito River Valley and is the source of the river at Santa Ysabel Creek, which rises in a beautiful, steep, wooded area at Ironsides Springs on the west side of the mountain and flows down to the San Pasqual Valley through rugged territory with spectacular woodland and canyon scenery. Establishing the trail in this part of the River Park is a challenge.

The Volcan Mountain Foundation (VMF) is a volunteer group, akin to the environmental groups at the western ocean end. Its mission is to “conserve and acquire land and practice respectful stewardship through education, public outreach, and resource management” in order to “preserve Volcan Mountain in its natural state for future generations.” It issues a newsletter with information about this very different eastern part of our valley and helps with public introduction to an area less familiar to many supporters of the San Dieguito River Park. The Foundation has helped facilitate the preservation of more than 17,000 acres but there are still thousands more on Volcan Mountain that could be placed in protective status and rehabilitated given funds for acquisition and operating expenses. For details see

The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy (SDRVC) has been an active partner for many years helping broker a coalition of public agencies which has acquired substantial acreage on the mountain. This is an ongoing effort detailed at

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is managed by the County of San Diego. Park Rangers lead docent hikes and trail maintenance days on many Saturdays and Sundays in the spring and early summer. For more information contact 760-765-4098.

The San Dieguito River flows through the Del Mar Lagoon and empties into the Pacific just west of the Del Mar Fairgrounds.