Discovering the Wild Side of Torrey Pines

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When I moved out to California last year, I was looking forward to taking up hiking. I’d done it on previous vacations and found it an exhilarating way to explore the boundless beauty of our state in its many forms.

I stuck to my plan for the first two weeks of my move, hiking Roy Rogers State Park and The Pallisades in LA, but then I got down coast and something (OK, tee times) distracted me from my goal.

I’m not big on resolutions, but I’ve made hiking more one of them for 2014. Even though I live here now, I’ve tried to maintain a vacation’s curiosity about California, and hiking is a one of the healthiest and most cost-effective ways outlets for that.

To renew my resolve and seek some inspiration and motivation, I recently undertook the first hike that was recommended to me when I moved out – the state park at Torrey Pines.

I’ve walked both of Torrey’s golf courses and each time I looked at the ocean views and the vistas and wondered how much the landscape had in common with the state park. It turns out, not surprisingly, quite a bit, although the state park has many unique and wonderful surprises of its own.

I ventured out on a day in September when the marine layer lingered long into the afternoon, which kept the temperature ideal for a hike. I drove the PCH down to the park entrance just north of La Jolla and the golf course, paid my $15, grabbed a map and went exploring with water bottle in hand.

I discovered that the park consists of 2,000 acres that is best navigated by six trails of varying difficulty, distance and destinations. For instance, the Beach Trail takes you to the beach, while High Point Trail leads you to a viewing area with a panoramic view of the ocean and the reserve itself.

I didn’t walk all six trails so if you’re looking for a definitive trail guide, you’re better off going to the state’s online trail guide at www.torreypine.org. I wanted to keep my hike to two hours and leave some of the park to explore later.

The first trail you encounter is the Guy Fleming Trail, which is supposedly the easiest of the hikes and consists of a 2/3-mile loop through the forest and along ocean bluffs. Considering it’s the most easily accessible trail, I left that one for another day when I might not have as much time to explore available to me.

I chose the Beach Trail, although I experienced other trails on the way there and the way back, including a portion of the hike where I wasn’t totally sure where I was. The trails are marked quite well on the way down and not quite as well on the way back, although the fault was probably entirely mine. If you know me at all, you know I could get lost in my driveway without a GPS. I had a map, but a map only helps if you can absolutely ascertain where you are.

Anyway, in a roundabout way, I guess what I’m saying is that if it’s your first time, I’d recommended taking a hiking partner, although you can’t certainly do it on your own, even if you’re directionally challenged like me. I encountered several experienced fellow hikers who were only too happy to point me in the right direction.

Now back to our regularly scheduled hike …

One of the first things you encounter on your hike is a display explaining how the park came to be. The story I’ve inserted below tells the story, so I won’t bother repeating it, but it’s obviously quite a vision she had and a contribution that Ellen Browning Scripps made to have this land set aside and protected from development to ensure that future generations can enjoy this scenic and unique portion of the California coast line.

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         After learning the story of the park, I set out to experience it, and after about 45 minutes of a slow, winding decent down sandy trails and through desert scape, I arrived at my desired destination – the beach, or at least the area overlooking it.

You actually experience the beach from the several viewpoints, and each of them gives you a different appreciation for this area is and how it came to be. And this is the major difference from the golf course, where you occasionally overlook the ocean, the beach and La Jolla, but you don’t come nearly this close. At the reserve, you can actually walk on the beach.

The first close-up view of the beach I got was from maybe a few hundred feet above. You can see all along the coastline and look down on the giant black rock formation that seems a destination unto itself for many hikers.

While taking in the view, a fellow hiker informed me that this area represents the best opportunity to view dolphins in the park, he said, and, for that matter, along the entire coastline. Apparently there’s a kelp bed that hosts a huge fish population, which draws the dolphins to feed.

Unfortunately, on the day of my hike we didn’t see dolphins, but that didn’t stop me from looking for a good half hour or so. When they are there, this has to be one of the best ways to experience them. I can’t imagine too many better vantage points.

From that perch, the trail continues to spiral down to the beach, and you eventually pass a part of the trail where you have to traverse a small sand dune. This is actually new beach being created, a slow and steady erosion process that the park’s helpful signs explain.

I’ll let my photos speak for my experience here, but I’ll just say I can only imagine how awesome this area is around dusk or sunset, although you wouldn’t want to be there, given that you’d be hiking back for a good 45 minutes in the dark.

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Image         If you’ve walked the golf course, the bluffs, vistas and topography in general will be familiar to you, but it’s presented in a less manicured and entirely native way that gives you a new appreciation of the area. I, for one, am glad I traded my golf spikes for tennis shoes to experience it and can’t wait to go back. I’m not sure how many other golfers do the same, but I absolutely recommend it.

It’s a little more arduous than, say, looping the North Course, but it’s a rewarding walk all of its own and one I look forward to taking again very soon.

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