There’s much to appreciate about living in North County: the best weather in the country, beautiful beaches, family-oriented neighborhoods, great schools, and for those who want to get outside and commune with nature (and who doesn’t?) beautiful and pristine preserves. Featuring five trails (totaling 6.24 miles) with lengths from .07 to 1.9 miles, a man-made 400-acre lake, a dam and even a dormant volcano, Lake Calavera Preserve is the most unique such preserve in the area.
Four hundred hikers, runners and bikers use Lake Calavera’s trails everyday. It is the largest preserve in Carlsbad and spreads out over 256 acres. There’s a trail appropriate for everyone; Lake Loop is the most popular. As the name implies this trail, which is also the longest, loops around the lake, offering views of the water as well as the dam. People hiking the trail for the first time are often pleasantly surprised to see waterfowl such as egrets, herons and ducks, which are not commonly found in upland scrub habitats. Hikers can also spot gnatcatchers, spotted towhees, owls, roadrunners and hawks.
Birds aren’t the only wildlife one will see along the trails. Late last year four bat boxes were installed in the northeast section of the preserve, so the creatures will no longer have to nest in the palm trees. Depending on the season and the time of day, hikers, runners and bikers may see deer, coyotes, bobcats and rattlesnakes.
Lake Calavera is definitely family-friendly; many parents push their babies and toddlers in baby joggers on the flattest trails while older children use their own “wheels”— mountain and hybrid bikes to tackle the steeper sections. The mostly-shaded Oak Riparian Loop (1.4 miles) on the East side of the preserve features a park (located in Oceanside) with a playground and a restroom, making it perfect for children. Children as well as adults enjoy learning about the solar system along the Solar Walk, a one-mile trail stretching from Tamarack Avenue (Northwest side of the preserve) to Sage Creek High school to the south. Conceived by Colton Dister, a junior at Sage Creek, the walk features a series of markers that represent the sun and the planets in our solar system laid out in linear scale with one foot representing one million miles.
Hikers who want a challenge will want to take the trail beyond the south end of the dam that leads uphill to the 513-foot-high summit of Mount Calavera, which isn’t really a mountain at all but a volcanic plug that formed when magma hardened within the vent of an active volcano. The panoramic view from the top is worth the climb, but hikers should be aware that the descent can be difficult, particularly during the rainy season when the rains wash away the dirt, leaving a rocky surface that can be unstable.
On-street parking is available on Tamarack Avenue and on Sky Haven. Off Sky Haven hikers can access two trailheads. There are two restrooms: the one adjacent to the playground at Oak Riparian Park and a new one at the Tamarack entrance.
Owners are asked to pick up after their pets. Each trailhead features a dog station: a post with a dog bag dispenser and a trashcan.
Enjoy this local hidden gem and remember to bring water and sunscreen!