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La Jolla Mom

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Guide: Hiking Trails and How to Visit

In anticipation of it reopening - I can't wait.

While La Jolla has its fair share of modern luxuries, we’re also lucky to enjoy ample opportunities to get outside and appreciate our community’s natural wonders. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of our special places with its 1,500 acres of coastal wild land that is popular for its ocean views and hiking trails.

I have the information you need to know before your adventure through the San Diego County reserve including directions, where to park, a run-down of hiking trails, rules, wildlife, and more.

About Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

You might hear a lot of people call it Torrey Pines State Park. It is part of the California State Park system, but it’s actually a natural reserve.

A reserve means that the area is generally home to threatened animals, plants, and habitats. It is a special designation and everyone who visits needs to take even more care to protect the flora and fauna inside of it. This may not be the case in a state park and reserves are subject to stricter rules. There are only 14 state reserves in the California State Park system and Torrey Pines is one of them.

The below are some other things to take note of before you make your way to the reserve to enjoy the fresh air and breathtaking views.

The Rare Torrey Pine Tree

Torrey pine tree against an ocean backdrop. The Torrey Pines Reserve is one of La Jolla's best places for hikes, walks and ocean views.
A Torrey Pine tree.

The rare Torrey pine (pinus torreyana) tree, the namesake of the reserve, is an endangered species of pine in the United States. Conservation measures protect the reserve land and Torrey pine trees.

A Donation by Ellen Browning Scripps

There would not be a reserve at all if not for the involvement of local philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps.

In the 1920s, the Torrey pine was already rare. Balboa Park nurseryman, Guy Fleming, convinced Ellen Browning Scripps that a public park was necessary to protect the tree from pollution generated by the rise of automobile traffic in the area.

She agreed and already owned some of this land and hired him as the caretaker of the park. His goal was to educate the public about the importance of these trees and caring for nature through signage and walking trails.

Ellen Browning Scripps donated the land to the City of San Diego and it became a California State Park in 1959.

Both the Visitor Center and Ranger Station are located in a 1922 building commissioned by Ellen Browning Scripps. Back then, the building was a restaurant called Torrey Pines Lodge (not affiliated with the hotel, one of my favorites in town, The Lodge at Torrey Pines down the way). Today, you can start your visit here to learn a little bit about the park, grab a map, and browse the museum shop.

Torrey Pines Nature Reserve Location

The Reserve is located north of San Diego, between Del Mar and La Jolla. As you drive along the beach, the entrance is on the right, before the road inclines up the North Torrey Pines Road hill. 

If coming from the south, you will pass the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course on your way from La Jolla and make a left at the bottom of the North Torrey Pines Road hill.

Address: 12600 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037.

Operation Hours

Gates open at 7:15 a.m. and close at sunset. The exact closing time is posted at the South Beach Parking entrance. 

Torrey Pines San Diego Parking Instructions

Parking lots can be found at South Beach Parking, which is a lot near the beach, and at the top of the mesa in the Reserve. The general admission fee allows visitors to park in both lots. 

View of Torrey Pines State Beach from The Reserve.
You can see the South Beach Parking lot here. The North Beach Parking lot is just passed the lagoon.

The fee is demand-based pricing and ranges between $10 – $25 per vehicle. A valid annual California State Parks Vehicle Day Use Pass will also allow visitors access into the reserve.

North Beach Parking has a separate fee structure. The fee is also between $10 – $25. It is suggested that this lot is used during the busy times of 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the summer months. Limited free parking is available on North Torrey Pines Road but it’s hard to come by.

Tip: Oversized vehicles pay an additional fee. There is now a flashing light on the South Beach Parking kiosk. If it is flashing, the parking lot is closed so that is your cue to head to North Beach Parking.

Uber: You can also take an Uber to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and it works like this. You will enter the reserve with your driver and pay the day-use fee. LAZ, the parking concessionaire will record your Uber user name. When a driver returns to pick you up, they will be allowed into the Reserve without paying a fee by mentioning your Uber user name (it would help to give your driver these instructions if possible).

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve General Rules

It is highly encouraged that visitors enjoy the Reserve in a conscious way. The Reserve has put the following general rules in place to help keep the area pristine:

  • No drones are to be flown in the Reserve or on the beach.
  • No food or drink is permitted on the Reserve (except for water).
  • Food and drinks are allowed on the beach with the exception of alcohol.
  • No dogs or pets allowed.
  • No smoking.
  • No picking of plants and flowers.
  • No loud music is permitted.
  • Stay on the trails.
  • Take your rubbish home. There are no trash cans available in the Reserve or on the beach. Throw your rubbish away when you reach the beach parking lots.
  • All groups need a permit.
  • Torrey Pines camping is not permitted.

There are also no restrooms on the trails or at the Visitor Center but there are portable toilets in the beach parking lots and in the parking lot of the upper Reserve (there is some sewer work happening so actual bathrooms are temporarily unavailable).

Torrey Pines Hikes

One of the best ways to discover the natural beauty of the Reserve is to walk through it. The air is fresh, the views are awe-inspiring, and there’s plenty of wildlife to observe along the eight miles of hiking trails, which offer some of the best hikes in San Diego.

It is very important to stay on the trails. One reason is that there has been an uptick in rattlesnake sightings here and elsewhere in San Diego (one recently slithered through my yard in La Jolla). Also keep in mind that trail closures are common in the event of rain.

These are the trails in the main Reserve. There are four other trails in the extension.

Trails at Torrey Pines State Park that over look the ocean.
This was an early morning hike in La Jolla, California

Guy Fleming Trail

Length: .6 mile loop

Difficulty: Easy

Perfect for: Families, small children, the elderly, and visitors with incorrect footwear.

The Guy Fleming Trail has the greatest plant variety and habitat diversity on the trails offered at Torrey Pines Park. The wildflowers, cacti, and ferns, as well as the bird bath, attract all sorts of wildlife (which we discuss below). It was actually a trail that Guy Fleming used to guide visitors around the park.

Parry Grove Trail

Length: .5 mile loop

Difficulty: Moderate (steep entry/exit of 100+ steps)

Perfect for: Walkers who understand that a steep decline with stairs to the viewpoint (remembering its a steep incline with stairs back out) is worth it.

The Parry Grove Trail is quiet and secluded. Even on busy days of the year, you may be the only walker on the trail. Drought and the bark beetle infestation in the 1980s devastated this trail. However, the new Torrey pines are now thriving and the spring wildflowers are abundant. You’ll also see the Whittaker Garden full of native plants at the trailhead.

Tip: The steps can be slippery so be careful. 

High Point Trail

Length: 100 yards with steep steps to the lookout

Difficulty: Moderate 

Perfect for: Walkers who are able to climb steps.

The High Point Trail gives hikers stunning panoramic views of the lagoon, ocean, reserve, and inland from a high point in the reserve.

Razor Point Trail

Length: .5 miles to overlook

Difficulty: Challenging

Perfect for: Hikers who enjoy a longer walk and incredible views.

The stairs on the trail up to Red Butte, the famous rock formation in Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Red Butte is in the Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego

This trail winds through the coastal scrub. The dramatic views of the sandstone gorge make this route memorable. The Yucca Point Overlook is loved for its yucca flowers in the spring and the sandstone tafoni (beautiful patterns created in the rocks due to erosion).

Beach Trail

Length: .75 miles

Difficulty: Challenging

Perfect for: Beachgoers who would like to work up a sweat before relaxing.

This trail is great for enthusiastic beachgoers who want to reach the golden shores in a unique way. The rustic trail leads to the beach with a 300-foot descent and stairs to the final access point. The Yucca Point Overlook can also be enjoyed from this trail.

If you are going to walk down to the beach from this trail, you must remember that you need to walk back up.

Broken Hill Trail

Length: 1.25 miles to North fork; 1.3 miles to South fork

Difficulty: Challenging

Perfect for: Fit and active trail runners and walkers.

This trail is the Reserve’s longest trail and popular with joggers. Just above Flat Rock, the North Fork connects with the Beach Trail. The path leads walkers through sagebrush and chaparral. Like all of the trails at Torrey Pines State, the scenic views are amazing.

Tip: The trails are narrow so keep an eye our for joggers whizzing by. As such it’s not the best trail for slow walkers.

Torrey Pines State Reserve Extension Trails

Most people hike the trails in the main Reserve. In 1970, local residents raised funds to purchase additional land surrounding Torrey pine trees on the other side of Los Penasquitos Lagoon which is now the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension. There are four trails here that are less used but still beautiful.

You access these trails from Del Mar Scenic Pkwy via Carmel Valley Rd.;
or from Mar Scenic Drive or Mira Montana Drive, via Del Mar Heights Rd. Park on the street but note that there are no facilities like bathrooms over here.

You can find the trail maps for the main Reserve and Extension here.

Torrey Pines Free Park Ranger Tours

Families and small groups (limited to about 10 people) can enjoy free public guided walks on weekends and holidays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. During the summer, free guided tours are also available on Fridays at 10 a.m. Meet at the Visitor Center entrance to take part in the nature walks.

Tip: Organized groups should schedule hikes three weeks prior.

Wildlife Sightings At Torrey Pines Park

Whether you’re an adult or have a fresh pair of a child’s eyes in your company, seeing wildlife is always exciting. The Torrey Pines California area has plenty of birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles to keep a lookout for. However, if the trails are busy they do tend to scurry away.

Birds

The Reserve is one of the last remaining salt marshes that many birds call home. Birds are the most likely wildlife that you will spot. Keep a lookout for the red-tailed hawk circling in the sky while it spreads its four-foot wingspan to catch the thermals. Or keep your eyes to the floor to spot a California Quail which nests on the ground.

Mammals

Most of the mammals found in the Reserve are either nocturnal or avoid the disruption of humans. Their droppings, tracks, and den sites are what has informed the park of their activities.

The cottontail rabbit and California ground squirrel are two animals that are spotted regularly and are more tolerant of humans. In open areas around the lagoon and flatland, the black-tail jackrabbit can be spotted.

Occasionally mule deers, also called blacktail deer, can be seen grazing along the quiet lowlands of the Reserve. If you see one, count yourself lucky. These animals generally only feed at night and retreat into thick bushes during the day.

Reptiles and Snakes

Sightings of certain reptiles (your average lizard is common) and snakes are rare, even though there are at least eight species of each on the reserve. The side-blotched lizard and western fence lizard can be observed throughout the year, and are often seen in the warmer months of spring and summer.

Tip: Again, hikers and walkers should be cautious of rattlesnakes. Always watch your step on the trails.

Torrey Pines State Beach

View of crowds enjoying Torrey Pines State Beach, a popular Del Mar Beach.

The Del Mar beaches hold so much beauty and charm. Torrey Pines State Beach is no different. Ending the Beach Trail through Torrey Pines Natural Reserve in the blue Pacific Ocean waters sounds like the perfect reward.

You might see the bright colors of the paragliders from the Torrey Pines Gliderport fill the sky while you enjoy sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. Be mindful of the bluffs here as they do crumble.

If you are going to walk south on Torrey Pines State Beach, you will reach Black’s Beach — infamous for being San Diego’s nudist beach and strong surf break — in about two miles (assuming that you start at the base of the reserve at South Beach Parking) only if the tide is low enough to permit access along this stretch of Southern California coast. Beware of getting lured by seemingly low tides at the start only to find this route impassible after you’ve walked halfway.

Fun Facts About Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has plenty of interesting history and fun facts to keep in mind.

  • There over 3000 Torrey Pines found in the Reserve.
  • Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara is the only other place the Torrey Pines grow (the island tree is bushier).
  • The pines originally were called Soledad Pines (Solitary Pines).
  • Dr. Charles Christopher Parry renamed the pines in 1850.
  • The mule deer, seen on the Reserve, is the only species of deer in Southern California.

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