Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Take a hike into the wilds of Pala

The Wilderness Gardens Preserve in Pala unfurls ruggedly on a piece of northern San Diego County terrain.

A bounty of whitish-gray and dark brown skeletal-like trees breaks for the sky. Dots of pastel yellow flowers sun-kiss the buff rocky ground.

It has 4 miles of hiking trails, picnic tables, historical and cultural sites and an interpretive center.

According to the county Web site (, the most popular trail is the half-mile Alice Fries trail that meanders near the San Luis Rey River. It provides access into the preserve’s interior.

The Upper Meadow Trail provides an overview of the preserve and San Luis Rey River corridor.

Part of a rich agricultural history, Wilderness Gardens is also home to the historic Sickler’s Grist Mill site.

The mill is considered a testimony to the resilience of those who pioneered the valley. Historic accounts and photos of the mill are on display in the park ranger station.

Try to think ahead for this trip.

When visiting the 737-acre preserve on 14209 Highway 76, it may be good to bring a backpack of snacks like chocolate chip trail mix, Red Delicious apples and juicy plums. Water may be better than sugary vitamin-infused drinks that could make hikers thirstier. But, beef jerky is a practical light-weight protein treat. The pepper flavor is tasty. And, sturdy shoes and sunscreen are a must.

Ranger led hikes may be scheduled throughout the year.

Temperatures can rise quickly. Try hiking early in the morning.

The mill might be an interesting feature and there’s a pond but no fishing is allowed. The preserve staging area has picnic tables, portable restrooms and quick access to the trails.

Acquired in 1973, the land is one of the oldest county parks.

It’s located near the San Luis Rey River watershed and is known as a birdwatcher’s paradise.

From Interstate 15 take Highway 76 east for 9.5 miles. The preserve will be on the right hand side of the highway.

It is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Monday; closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and all of Aug. 1 through Sept. 4 each year due to high temperatures.

Parking is $3 per vehicle. No camping is allowed.

For more information, or to schedule a ranger-guided hike, call (760) 742-1631 or visit


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