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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

Stanley Peak/Daley Ranch Loop Trail – Escondido, San Diego County, California

Now, here is a place where you can take a hike in the outskirts of Escondido. Daley Ranch conservation area offers interconnecting hiking trails with different short and long loop trails. Whether you want to summit Stanley Peak or not, you get to choose which trails you want to hike. This park is not only for hikers, bikers and equestrians; many visitors probably come here to visit Stanley Ranch. The ranch, acquired by the Escondido city council, is an open-air museum with old farm machinery, barns and picnic tables located under the shade of huge trees.

View at the summit of Stanley Peak


La Honda Drive Trailhead

Daley Ranch has over 3,000 acres of preserved land. The ranch, which was initially planned for a huge housing development, was bought for $21 million in 1997 by the Escondido city council to preserve the land as open space, a safe habitat for wild animals and plants, as well as a natural environment for recreation. There are over 25 miles of trails in the preserve, an outdoor museum, a campground open year-round, ponds and native plants and animals.

Before the area was settled, the land was used by Native Americans, the Kumeyaay, Luiseno and other small tribes. Evidence was found in the area such as metates, grinding holes and many artifacts.


Not into hiking? You can camp, rent a boat and fish at Dixon Lake, an 80-foot deep man-made reservoir. The lake is known for its largemouth bass (a record of 22lb 5 oz). During winter months the lake is stocked with rainbow trout. There is also a pleasant foot path following the shoreline.

Dixon Lake


There are three trailheads in this park which are reached via La Honda Drive, Cougar Pass and El Caballo Park. There are other parking areasalong Chaparral Nature Trail and by the Dixon Lake as well. For hikers, the most popular trailhead is along La Honda Drive. To get here, coming from downtown San Diego, is about an hour drive via CA-163 North and I-15 North. Then take exit 33 to East El Norte Parkway and left to La Honda Drive.


From La Honda Drive Trailhead, you have a choice of taking a combination of various loop trails, starting clockwise or counter-clockwise. You can plan your own route. Most trails in Daley Ranch have no major elevation gains. They are pretty much easy and make for pleasant hikes when the weather is cool. Like most hiking trails in southern California, the trails here are mostly in the open, so bring more than enough drinking water, plus sun protection. It can get hot even in cool weather when the sun is intense. Take along a map, it’s a great help when hiking, especially on unfamiliar trails. Snacks, or a lunch, are advisable for energy boosts on longer hikes.


On this hike we took a loop trail following the Creek Crossing to Coyote Run. At a junction, there is a sign connecting it to Sage Trail. There are trail signs and wide well-used trails, and with a map there's no need to worry about getting lost; just look out for snakes, at least in the warmer months.

From Sage Trail is a junction to the Old Water Tank. A short distance, past the tank, is a junction to Stanley Peak. Hiking up to the summit, some elevation gain is expected, but nothing major. If you are a seasoned hiker it is an easy ascent to the top.

Getting to the summit of Stanley Peak (1,983 feet) was the highlight of our hike. You don't want to skip it. You will find two interpretive panorama signs at the top showing the beautiful views towards the east and the west.

View towards the south
View towards the north

Hiking back down from the summit, you now have a choice which way to go. Go back the way you came? Take a short loop? It was our first time hiking in the park so we continued on the Sage Trail toward the Stanley Ranch.

Enjoying the view
Hiking back down

After about a half-mile, you will pass by a pond surrounded by lush vegetation. Another pond (Middle Pond) is found along the Ranch House Trail.


A half mile from the pond is Daley Ranch. It was home to Robert Daley since 1868, and later with his wife and their children, until it was sold by his descendants. It was once a ranch and a dairy farm before his sons decided to move to San Diego and built a construction business, which later became the largest construction business in the county. The ranch was leased and later became a summer vacation house for the family. In the 1980s, the family decided to build a housing development on this land, but the economy faltered and the plan was put on hold. By the 1990s, with a growing awareness of the need to protect and preserve the land, Daley Ranch was sold to the city of Escondido.

The ranch is about a mile from the La Honda Trailhead. When we hiked here, the house was closed since it was a weekday, but on the second Sunday of each month the house is open for guided tours.

At the ranch, you can stay a while and cool off under the trees before you head back down. There are picnic tables provided under the trees. From here on, the trail is paved so it will be hotter.



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