by Stacey Kuhns
Even Features a Paved Trail to Accommodate Wheelchairs!
Mission Trails Regional Park is 7,220 acres of adventure and discovery for the entire family. It is located at 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail in San Diego, CA, 92119. This park represents a San Diego prior to the landing of Cabrillo in San Diego Bay in 1542. It is one of the largest urban parks in San Diego and now is the best time to visit. There are handicap accessible areas and even a long, gorgeous paved trail to accommodate wheelchairs! No one needs to miss out on this amazing park.
My boyfriend, my service dog Henson, and I, have been to the park on several occasions and each one is a different experience depending on the time of year. My boyfriend hikes there regularly, but due to my disabilities, I am unable to do the climbs he does there.
No matter, I am able to enjoy miles of trails throughout the park. We visited there about 4 months ago. It was a good hike, but the landscape was mostly brush and all the stream beds were dry. We visited there last weekend and it was like another world! I was amazed and had the most wonderful day. It was still hot (so bring plenty of water if you go), but it was lush, flowers were blooming everywhere, and the streams were flowing quite well. Gorgeous.
We started at the East Fortuna Staging Area. There are mostly flat, easy trails until you get towards the hills. You can choose a variety of trails to take and can spend a few hours hiking or hike all day. We mostly had the place to ourselves (got there around 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning). We spent hours there just walking around, enjoying the greenery, resting in the shade when needed, and Henson loved playing in the streams (on leash at all times). There are marsh areas with water birds (courtesy of the recent rains). We did run into a few areas, unexpected, where we had to cross over water to continue on the trail (again, courtesy of the rains), so you may want to wear boots just for that reason. I was in tennis shoes and did fine, but needed help crossing some areas just because of my disabilities.
The grasses were so long and beautiful. It just felt like our own slice of paradise. We saw more flowers here and more of a variety than we did in Anza Borrego the weekend before. (Click Here for That Story)
The most popular area is the Old Mission Dam. There is a small parking lot very close to the dam. The history is fascinating; love this area. Old Mission Dam. History: When the population of San Diego de Alcala Mission grew during the late 18th century, so did its demand for water. The Spanish colonists solved the water shortage problem by building what is likely the first major colonial irrigation-engineering project on the Pacific Coast.
Known today as Old Mission Dam or Padre Dam, this National Historic Landmark collected water near the head of Mission Gorge on the San Diego River, and its five-mile-long aqueduct provided the mission with water for American Indians and Spanish colonists. Though damaged by floods, earthquakes, and human activity, the dam's stonewall continues to hold water. This impressive colonial ruin is a public site that visitors can enjoy within San Diego’s Mission Trails Regional Park.
The mission community started work on the dam after the drought in 1803 and completed construction of the larger irrigation system by 1817. When the laborers finished, the dam was 220 feet long, 12 feet high, and 13 feet thick. The laborers used cobblestones, bricks, and cement for the dam wall, and they laid tiles on the bed of the long aqueduct to keep water from seeping into the sandy ground. The aqueduct, which ran from the dam to the mission, was two feet wide and five miles long.
The community used the water to support its people, agriculture, and herds of cattle and sheep. After the secularization of the California missions in the 1830s, which followed Mexican independence, the dam fell into disrepair. By 1867, the dam and aqueduct were in ruins. In the 1870s, residents of the mission valley restored the dam. The historic dam still disrupts the flow of water in the San Diego River. There is fishing allowed here and there were families with their kids fishing.
The dam area is always a bit more crowded but there is shade to relax in, you can sit on the walls and just watch the water, or there are picnic tables for a snack or lunch break.
Further down the trail from the dam is a bridge and then a number of trails to explore.
Water was flowing quite swiftly under the bridge which was amazing to see. Lovely areas to walk along the water (but they are not trails so you do have to move some tree branches out of the way and step over uneven rocks and things to get there). I was able to do it with help so it is not that difficult.
After spending most of the day hiking around, we decided to drive the Father Junipero Serra Trail through the park. There are many, many more trails to hike along this trail and this is where the paved area is for wheelchairs, bikes, strollers, etc. It is also accessible from the dam trail area. The drive is so beautiful, we did it twice!
There are many flowers growing along the rocks and you can see patches of flowers all the way up the hills and mountains. There is also a stream that runs alongside the paved area, but there is very little parking and just a few pullouts (also, there is a warning of rock slides if taking a chance of parking on the sides of the road).
Mission Trails Regional Park is worth a visit, or a few visits. And best of all, it is free! If you get down there, spend the day, and want to take a lunch break, there is not much in the area. There is a large convenience store (appears to be independently owned). Inside the store is a Subway, open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. A great place to pick up items to take into the park for a picnic. The store and Subway are located at 7757 Mission Gorge Road, Santee, 92071. Very friendly, good service, and clean.
I hope you visit the park and let me know your thoughts about your visit. I personally prefer this time of the year as opposed to summer when it is too hot and things are dry, but my boyfriend loves the summers there.