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Hike a Volcano… in North County San Diego!

hike mount calavera volcano in carlsbad north county san diego

You don’t have to fly all the way to Hawaii to hike a volcano. There’s one right here in Carlsbad!

Carlsbad’s Lake Calavera Preserve is the largest of the city’s 13 managed nature preserves. There are more than six miles of trails, open to hikers, mountain bikers, and dog walkers. Granted, the volcano is dormant and hikers won’t see any flowing lava, but it’s a great trek and offers some beautiful scenery. It’s actually a 22 million-year-old volcanic plug, which is a mass of volcanic rock that solidified in a volcano’s vent millions of years ago.

The 256-acre Lake Calavera Mitigation Bank Open Space area includes the 110-acre Calavera Nature Preserve, set aside in the early ’90s. The open space preserve surrounding Lake Calavera is bordered by neighborhoods to the south and west, including the newly built Sage High School. Land to the east and north and east is mostly open space.

The 400-acre lake is a man-made reservoir managed by the Carlsbad Municipal Water District. It was built in 1940, the earthen dam at the south end of the lake rises 67 feet high and 490 feet across. The lake stores 520 acre-feet of water, when we’re not in a drought.

Volunteers, land managers and Carlsbad City Staff have worked together for a number of years to restore and clean up the area, control erosion, build useable trails, remove invasive plants and re-vegetate with indigenous plants.  Even local elementary school students have seeded the preserve and performed field studies in it.

The entire area is habitat to an identified 115 plant, 49 bird, 10 mammal and 7 amphibian/reptile species. Of these identified species, 6 are classified as threatened or endangered.  Among the area’s endangered species are the Thread-leaved Brodiaea, Orange-throated Whiptail and the California Gnatcatcher. The California Gnatcatcher is perhaps the most threatened of these species because 85% of it’s natural habitat, the Diegan Coastal Sage Scrub, has been destroyed by development.

The preserve’s main trail is a 1.9-mile loop that circles Lake Calavera. The main North Trail crosses the dam and continue along the main South Trail for a loop around Lake Calavera. Just beyond the south end of the dam, a steep trail forks off to the south. Hikers can take that trail uphill to reach the cliff side of Mount Calavera, the 513-foot-high summit centered in the preserve. The cliff still shows evidence of mining done in the early 1900s and tends to attract local rock climbers, which you might come across on a hike or ride.

When you reach the top of the short trail to Mount Calavera’s cliff, head toward the entry opening in the chain-link fence. Just to the right of that opening, you will find a cool little surprise… a labyrinth! Rocks form a maze like circle that calls you to step inside and ponder.

The trails are perfect for a morning walk, run, or ride. Or you can just meander through the trails at your leisure. It’s not likely that you’ll get lost on these trails, but bring your phone… just in case.

To get to Lake Calavera and the Volcano, head east on Tamarack from the 5 until you get to College Ave. There’s a trail head and parking lot crossing College, or you can go left and turn right at the next section of Tamarack to find other parking locations and entrances just beyond the neighborhoods.

Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Your Turn…

Have you hiked the volcano? Or mountain biked it? Any tips for first time hikers or riders? Share them in the comments below!

Sugar Jones: Sugar Jones has been blogging about life since 2008. She has contributed to various local news stations for lifestyle segments, speaking about tech, social media, travel, food, and family.