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San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

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San Elijo Lagoon, 7/5/13

San Elijo Lagoon  is located about 24 miles North of San Diego CA, between the coastal cities of Encinitas (on the North) and Solana Beach (on the South), stretching inland on the East side of the I5 highway.  This 915 acre coastal wetlands reserve is home to hundreds of wildlife (including reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, mammals, birds) and plant species in six different plant communities.  The reserve includes 7 miles of hiking trails with 8 trail heads, a nature center and nature trail.  The trails East of I5 are open for equestrian use.  Dogs on leash are allowed throughout the reserve.  There is no charge for parking.  The pictures below are divided into 2 of the major trail system sections plus the nature trail and represent less than half of the trails and landscape found at this reserve.  San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is open generally during daylight hours.  Free brochures and trail maps are available at the nature center.  For a good online trail map of the entire reserve click here & for detailed trail info click here.  For complete listing of rules, hours of operation, nature center hours and fun facts on everything about the reserve see San Elijo Conservancy website at http://www.sanelijo.org, also see the County of San Diego website at http://www.co.san-diego.ca.us/parks/openspace/selr.html  Click any pic on the page below to enlarge.  For more trail pics see the photo gallery on CAopenspace.org Facebook page (no FB login required).

Nature Center Loop Trails

Located next to the Nature Center at 2710 Manchester Ave (Exit 37 toward the ocean off the I5) on the North side of the reserve in Encinitas--the trail is relatively flat, easy and disability accessible, divided into 2 loops by a boardwalk in the center of the loop; the inner loop is .3 miles, the outer loop .6 miles.  Within a few steps I observed a number of birds, crabs in the mudflats and large fish jumping high out of the water.  You will find many resting benches, interpretive signs and great scenery along the nature trail.

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Nature Center Loop, 7/5/13

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Nature Center Loop

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Boardwalk, Nature Center Loop Trails, 7/5/13

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Nature Center Loop Map (click pic to enlarge)

Nature Center

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Nature Center

N. Rios Ave./Gemma Parks Trails

The longest trails in the reserve are accessible from the trail head on N. Rios Ave. in Solana Beach on the South side of San Elijo.  Parking is along the residential street.  From this point the trail goes either left (toward the ocean) or right (toward I5).  The route shown in the pictures below is heading toward I5 taking the Gemma Parks loop on the way, passing through salt marsh, mixed chaparral, coastal sage scrub and finally riparian scrub near I5, then passing under I5 to another large trail system on the East side of the reserve.  Trails in this section have a slight elevation gain and alternate between sand and hard packed ground.  Directions to, a trail map and description of the N. Rios Ave. trail section can be found at http://www.sanelijo.org/rios.htm 

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N. Rios Trail Head

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View of the salt marsh, near N. Rios trail head


N Rios Trail Map (click pic to enlarge)

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N. Rios Trail

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Morning Cloak Butterfly on Elderberry Bushes

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N. Rios trail near Gemma Parks Interpretive Trail

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Salt marsh near the N. Rios Ave/Gemma Parks Trail

N. Rios Trail, I5 underpass to Santa Inez Trail

Santa Inez Trail

Near the I5 on the West end of the reserve, accessible by walking under the I5 from the Rios Ave trail system or alternatively drive to the trail head and park along the street, see http://www.sanelijo.org/santa_inez.htm for directions.  The pictures below show the trail between the I5 undercrossing, Santa Inez and Santa Carina trail heads, passing through freshwater marsh, salt marsh and coastal sage scrub habitats.

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East side of San Elijo Lagoon near I5 undercrossing

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California Buckwheat growing along the trail parallel to I5


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Coastal Sage Scrub near Santa Inez Trail




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Torrey Pine & coastal sage scrub, between Santa Inez & Santa Carina trail heads

Other reserve trails

Not shown on this page is the East end of Santa Carina trail, plus the eastern most end of the reserve which includes Santa Helena and La Orilla trails.  Along La Orilla it's described as a fresh water/riparian habitat where La Orilla Creek enters the reserve, includes oaks, sycamores and occasional mule deer.  The coastal trail section (Left from N. Rios Ave. trail head) is also not shown.  See http://www.sanelijo.org/trails for a complete listing of all trails.

External Links:

Walk Simply, on the Nature Loop Trail

Nobody Hikes in LA, on the N. Rios Ave Trails

The Last Adventurer, on the La Orilla Trail

Trails.com, on the West basin

Calflora, good San Elijo Lagoon plant list with pictures, includes native & non native

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