Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the best wild spaces in the San Diego area. This 2000-acre reserve contains the rare Torrey pine tree, a sandy beach, a lagoon, 8 miles of hiking trails, and an adobe Visitor Center.
The Torrey Pine tree
The Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana) was "discovered" by Dr. Charles Christopher Parry in 1850. He named the tree after a leading botanist of the time: Dr. John Torrey. Although the Torrey pine can grow anywhere of appropriate temperature & rainfall, it occurs naturally only in 2 places:
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Santa Rosa (an island off the coast of Santa Barbara). This unusual distribution has led many scientists to speculate how these two stands of trees, so far apart, came about.
All the pine trees in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are Torrey pines. It can grow to 150 years in age and 60 feet in height; though their size depends on the amount of rainfall they get. The needles of the Torrey pine are grouped in bunches of 5. Bundles of 4 or 3 needles do also occur but they are typically in groups of 5. After fertilization, it takes 3 years before the cones are mature. The cones may stay on the tree for up to 10 years and drop their seeds during the Fall season. The cones are between 1" to 6" and the seeds within are hard, but edible.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about the Torrey pines is their characteristic windswept shape and their tenacity for life: they thrive in poor soil with little rainfall and endure intense heat from the sun.
Hiking (Walking) Trails
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has 8 miles of walking trails which can be loosely divided into 4 sections (with subdivisions). See trail map here.
The Guy Fleming Trail is the easiest trail: it is a 2/3 mile loop with little elevation gain. Here you will see sandstone formations, a view of the lagoon, a view of the ocean, flowers, trees, cacti, and birds. There is a water fountain on the trail and an artificial birdbath.
The Parry Grove Trail is the shortest trail: it is a 1/2 mile loop. The entry way (about 100 paces) is steep, but otherwise the trial is level. In the 1980's Bark Beetle destroyed many of the trees here. The trail was closed but is now open again and is thriving.
The next trailhead leads you to the Razor Point Trail, the Yucca Point Trail, and joins up with the Beach Trail. The Razor Point trail is 2/3 miles long and interconnects and splits in many places. Follow the signs to reach Yucca Point and Razor Point. Otherwise head downhill if you want to get to the beach and uphill if you want to get back to the parking lot. In this trail, you will see sandstone cliffs, a scattering of Yucca plants, an ocean view, flowers, trees, shrubs and cacti. Most of the trail is relatively level and there are benches along the way.
From the parking lot, the Beach Trail is 3/4 miles long. This trail interconnects with the Razor Point trail. Care is recommended on the Beach trial because some parts are steep, the passage is narrow, and the sandy cliffs are slippery. At places, there are wooden steps leading downwards and, at the final descent, there is a metal stairway. At the beach, there is a large Flat Rock which is accessible during low tide. If you climb onto Flat Rock, you will see a square indentation on the rock face. It is not clear who made this square hole and why, though it is suggested that it has been there as early as 1890. Because of this, Flat Rock is sometimes called Bathtub Rock.
The Broken Hill Trail is the last and longest trail. It is 1.2 miles long and you can get there by using the South Fork Trail or the North Fork Trail. There is more chaparral (shrubs) and fewer trees on this trail, but you get a great view of Broken Hill. You can access the beach because the trail connects with the Beach Trail. The trail is relatively level except at the last section where it descends down to the beach.
In summary, the walking/hiking trails in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are well maintained, stunningly beautiful, and cannot be found anywhere else. Some refer to is as "a wilderness island in an urban sea".
The Visitor Center is located in the Torrey Pines Lodge. The Lodge was commissioned by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps and was completed in 1923. The Lodge was build with adobe bricks in a manner similar to those made by the Hopi Indian in Arizona. Originally, the Lodge served as a restaurant and motel but is now a Visitor Center and a Ranger Station.
The Visitor Center is worth exploring. On the outside are many plants with labels - it is always good to know what you are looking at! Inside you will find information on the wildlife and plants found within Torrey Pines Reserve. There are many touch-and-feel displays which children will enjoy. There is a 10 minute video about preserving the Reserve. Books, cards, toys, and other items available for sale - some booklets/bookmarks are as cheap as 25 cents. Free guided tours start here on Saturdays & Sundays at 10 am and 2 pm.
On the east side of North Torrey Pines Road is a patch of marshland called Los Peñasquitos Marsh. This wetland is a wildlife habitat to at least 15 kinds of fish and serves as a resting ground for migrating birds. Though few people visit the lagoon, it is a delicate ecosystem that deserves to be preserved and protected against urbanization.
Rules and Regulations
In order to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of this area, there are many rules and regulation to abide by:
- No smoking and no fires
- no picnics, no food or drinks allowed (only water allowed)
- no pets or dogs
- no vehicles, no horses, no bicycles (bicycles allowed on the paved road only)
- no overnight camping
- no collecting or removing of natural items
- stay on the trail.
As well, it is recommended that you:
- watch children diligently and always have them close to an adult. Some places have sudden drops while other places have cacti with sharp thorns.
- stay away from the base of the sandstone cliffs. At time, chunks of the cliff may fall to the beach below.
- be wary of rattle snakes and ticks. Watch where you step; in general, leave snakes alone and they will leave you alone too. After a hike, check for and remove ticks. These tiny insects are external parasites: they feed on your blood and may cause Lyme disease.
Location & Hours
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
just south of Del Mar
Exit highway 5 on Carmel Valley Rd. Head west until it dead-ends to N Torrey Pines Rd. Head south for about a mile. At the entrance of the Reserve, pay $8 for day-use of parking facilities. Drive up the paved road to the 3 upper parking lots.
Reserve is open to foot traffic at 7 am. The Reserve is open to cars from 8 am to sundown. Cars must be removed by sundown. Visitor Center opens at 9 am (May to Oct) and 10 am (Nov to April).
Your best option is to pay the $10 - $15 fee and use the parking lots within the Reserve. There are 3 upper parking lots that are used for the hiking trails. The first one near the Guy Fleming Trail is the smallest and can accommodate about 5 cars. This is because this trail is relatively easy and can be accomplished quickly. The next two parking lots are larger and can accommodate over 100 cars.
If these parking lots are all full, you can also park at the base of the cliffs near the Entrance pay-station. This parking lot has over 200 spaces but is predominantly for those who wish to be at the beach. If you park here, you will need to walk uphill for about half a mile before you get to the first trial head.
To avoid parking fees, you may look for street parking on the west side of N Torrey Pines Rd. There are over 100 parking spaces lining the beach, but it is rare to find a parking space here. And, if you do park here, you will need to walk a about half a mile to get to the entry of the Torrey Pine Reserve, and then an additional half mile to get to the trail head. It is not an impossible task; however be aware that you will need extra time to cover the distance.
The Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve is a very delicate ecosystem. Please help maintain its integrity by not introducing anything into, or removing anything out of the Reserve.
Food is not allowed on the trails (food is permitted on the beach only) and there is no food for sale anywhere at the Torrey Pine State Natural Reserve. If you need to buy food, there are a few good eateries a few minutes drive away on Carmel Valley Road.
Drinking water is permitted but all other drinks are not. There is a drinking fountain at the Guy Fleming Trail, though it is recommended that you bring your own water.
Public restrooms are available at the entry of the Reserve (at pay-station) and at the head of the Razor Point Trail.
The Visitor Center sells books, postcards, toys, and knickknacks.