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Horsethief Canyon (Backpacking) Professional Review and Guide
"The croak of a soaring raven cracked the morning stillness as we sauntered down from our campsite to the placidly flowing creek. A groggy dragonfly flitted through a beam of sunlight. Cool air, slinking down the night-chilled slopes, caressed our faces and set aflutter the papery sycamore leaves overhead. We cupped the clear, cold water in our palms and dashed it across our heads. Ahhh! If you want this kind of escape from the city—and you want it relatively quickly—Horsethief Canyon and Pine Valley Creek, just east of San Diego, is one good place to find it."
--Author varies by trail, Backpacking California: Mountain, Foothill, Coastal, & Desert Adventures in the Golden State (Wilderness Press).
The best laid plans of mice and men..... Sorry wrong story. The original plan was to take the Secret Canyon Trail. A month of planning went down the tubes in a 20 minute conversation with the ranger at the Horse Thief Canyon Trailhead where we were leaving a car for the straight through. The immigrant migration through that area made it unsafe and the Ranger strongly discouraged the attempt. We decided to head to a trail that is actually the northern portion of the trail we had planned on taking. We were not disappointed. The grounds were beautiful and the hike was great. The night was cold and water was cold but very relaxing. Lots of new faces and a great time had by all. while this fell short of the 16 miles we wanted to cover with secret canyon, the creek side camp site was wonderful to wind down at. Lots of geographic features made this a memorable trip. for more come to www.socaltrailblazers.com
Starting from the Penny Pines TH on Hwy. S1 the first few miles are through an area partially burned in the Cedar Fire of 2003. Once you near the bottom of the canyon though the fire scars disappear and you are greeted with a lush, almost Sierra-like view. Good meadow side campsites. Watch out for mountain bikes, especially on the way in as they will be coming up from behind and moving pretty fast.
This trail is the jewel of San Diego County. Frequented by hikers and Mountain Bike riders alike. From the top you start in a lush forested landscape and descend through the pine trees to a high desert. There are a couple creek crossings, a few rocky sections and all in all, it’s the best trail in Southern California weather you are on foot or riding on two wheels. Bring plenty of water and something to eat.
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