Hiking Annie’s Canyon feels like you’re a world away from the palm trees, multi-million dollar homes, and world famous surf breaks that are a stone’s throw away. A hidden North County San Diego gem that is discreetly nestled between Interstate 5 and Solana Beach, Annie’s Canyon occupies a little slice of the San Elijo lagoon. For years Annie’s Canyon, also known as the “mushroom caves”, were unmaintained and not accessible to the public. Despite being inaccessible, people made their way to the canyon. Some left just their footprints, others marred the canyon walls with graffiti. Now cleaned up and open to the public, this magical little North County trail is one the best family hikes in San Diego County.
The Trail to Annie’s Canyon
The trail to Annie’s Canyon is really easy. It’s a mostly flat sandy path that is straightforward to navigate. From the end of N.Rios avenue it’s slightly less than a mile of walking until the turn off to Annie’s Canyon. There is the option of taking the more strenuous route, or the easier route. Unless you’re hiking with a dog, do the difficult option!* The easier trail simply takes you up a series of stairs to a viewpoint. It’s the difficult route you want to take if you’re wanting to get into the narrow canyon… and have more fun! Aside from some narrow sections and climbing a ladder there isn’t anything particularly technical or challenging about taking this trail.
After going through the canyon you will loop back to the main trail junction. You can continue walking through the San Elijo Lagoon towards Interstate 5 if you want a longer hike or you can hike back to the trailhead. This is an out-and back hike, however, there is a little trail that meanders closer to the lagoon. As you hike back towards your car keep an eye out for the trail that takes you to the lagoon. This smaller single track delves deeper into the estuary and has a small wildlife viewing platform.
*Please don’t attempt to take a dog into Annie’s Canyon. Twice I’ve seen hikers attempt to take dogs into the canyon and both times it was a complete failure. As soon as you reach the ladder section you’ll be regretting ignoring the “no dogs” sign. Faced with trying to get a dog up a ladder you’ll feel the wrath of other hikers as they wait for you to maneuver your four legged friend out of the canyon. Save yourself, and your dog, the inevitable awkwardness and heed the “no dogs” sign.
Getting to the Trailhead
The quickest access way to get to Annie’s Canyon is to park at the end of N.Rios Ave. If you google “Annie’s Canyon trailhead” Google should direct you to this trailhead. After parking your car in the neighborhood walk towards San Elijo Lagoon. There will be the option to take the trail towards the ocean or east towards Interstate 5. Take the trail east.
A slightly longer option is to park at Cardiff State Beach. You will need to pay to park. Make sure you park in the lot that is on the south end of the beach. Cross 101 and take the trail into the lagoon. An advantage of parking by the beach is that you get a longer hike and you can end your Annie’s Canyon adventure with a beach picnic.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting Annie’s Canyon
Beautiful at Sunset: After exiting the canyon there is an absolutely perfect sunset viewing platform. Watch the sunset and then quickly walk back to your car.
Bad Weather=No Annie’s Canyon: When it rains many of the trails in San Diego are closed for a day or two after, including the trail to Annie’s Canyon.
Don’t Bring a Dog: Dogs are allowed on trails in the San Elijo Lagoon but they aren’t allowed into Annie’s Canyon. If you want to experience the canyon it’s easiest to leave your pup at home.
Grab a Post-Hike Bite in Solana Beach or Encinitas: There is a plethora of delicious eateries along the 101 in North County San Diego. Even though you’ve only hiked two miles, treat yourself to an indulgent taco feast at “The Taco Stand” in Encinitas or fresh donuts from VG’s on Cardiff by the Sea.
Bring Water: There isn’t anyplace to fill up a water bottle at the trailhead so bring water. It’s a short hike but it can get hot on a sunny day.
Hiking to Annie’s Canyon With Kids
Kids will love exploring Annie’s Canyon. It’s consistently one of our favorite things to do when the weather is just a little too chilly for a beach day.
What ages are best for hiking Annie’s Canyon?
Since the hike is only about two miles roundtrip, kids of most ages can probably do the hike. If you’re hiking with elementary aged kiddos it will be fairly easy and quick. An energetic three or four year old could also do the hike. It just will take a little longer, involve a few extra snacks, and they might need some help with the ladder section.
Can you bring a stroller to Annie’s Canyon?
The trail to Annie’s Canyon is wide enough for a single all-terrain jogging type of stroller. However, the terrain is sandy so it would be a solid workout pushing a stroller. Not to mention it would be nearly impossible to take a stroller into the canyon so you would need to park the stroller if you’re planning on exploring the canyon.
How long does it take to hike Annie’s Canyon?
Most families will complete the hike in about 1-2 hours. It’s about two miles roundtrip.
What gear do I need?
You don’t need any special gear, just the usual things you would take when hiking with kids. Hats, water bottles, sunscreen, sneakers. Do bring a backpack to hold your belongings because it’s nice to have your hands free for climbing the ladder or helping your kiddo on the ladder.
The Bottom Line: Hiking Annie’s Canyon is a great all ages adventure and one of the best hikes to do in San Diego with kids!