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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

Kanaka Loop Trail, Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve (East) – San Diego County, California

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

East Preserve: There are two trailheads on either side of the East Preserve. One along Highway 79 (Santa Ysabel East Preserve, Highway 79 Staging area). The other is along Farmer Road. Driving to Farmer Road, continue on Highway 78 past Santa Ysabel and then to 79/Julian Road. Head east to Wynola Road and then north to Farmer Road all the way to the Santa Ysabel East Preserve trailhead.

SANTA YSABEL EAST PRESERVE (Kanaka Loop Trail) – 8 miles Round Trip

Farmer Road Trailhead

You can either begin your hike here along Highway 79 (Staging Area) or at the parking lot along Farmer Road, depending on which trail you want to tackle. But if you plan on taking the whole trail, 15 miles in all one way, then you might want to take two cars, parking one at each trailhead.

The Kanaka Loop Trail begin along Farmers Road. Hiking here you will find some spots of shade from the oak trees, but most of the way is through open meadows where you will find some cattle grazing on the green grass. The trail is gentle with some elevation gain in some areas, but overall this is a pleasant hiking trail.

A few yards from the trailhead, you will cross the Santa Ysabel Creek. You will cross this creek again after about 1.4 miles. Near the creek you will pass a shapely looking rock (you can use your imagination).

Crossing the Santa Ysabel Creek
First part of the trail
A wooden throne

Along the trail you will find a wooden "throne"; well, a high chair actually cut out from a huge dead tree. They even provided a step stool, and a step, for vertically challenged people like me. Kudos to those people who carved this chair.

Soon enough you will encounter cattle along the trail, a dilemma for some who haven't encountered bovines up close and personal. They will stare at you, but will not get out of your way, so you just have to walk around them, cautiously. Needless to say, I was hesitant (picture below) especially with mama with the baby, but we passed through unharmed. Passing the next herd of cattle is easier afterward.

Cattle on the trail
More cattle

Check for the sign along the trail so you won't get lost. People miss signs sometimes, if they are busy chatting amongst themselves; believe me it happens, we've seen that.

That way
Sign along Kanaka Loop

Upon crossing the creek the second time, the trail starts to gain elevation, but for a short distance only. The beginning of the loop is about 0.7 miles from the creek. You will see a sign pointing you to the right direction. There are two signs 0.3 miles apart. This portion of the trail is part of the Coast-To-Crest Trail so pay attention to the signs.

The Kanaka Loop crosses open meadows - a pasture for cattle so look where you step, you don't want cow poop on your boots. Along the trail look on the sides and you will find small, but beautiful, wildflowers. Some are so tiny it's hard to take photos of them.


Sant Ysabel is a historic place. If you want to learn about the area’s ecology, natural and cultural history, near the West Preserve, just at the edge of the town of Santa Ysabel, is a 6,000 square foot Nature Center.



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