Just the thought of hiking a place called Hell Hole Canyon conjures up an image of a rigorous, treacherous, hot landscape with snakes and hazards all around. For the most part that pretty much describes this hike that’s a hidden find and tucked into the mountains of Valley Center. Although it wasn’t hot and there were no snakes out and about HHC is one interesting hike, and I mean that in a good way. In fact what at first appearance is a walk in the park quickly can turn into a strenuous, challenging and very scenic hike. Getting to Hell Hole Canyon takes you past Lake Henshaw and as you follow the easy directions of the route leads you to the end of the road into a very well kept staging area equipped with clean restrooms and posted information of the trails and preserve. You can download a preserve map or get one of the very informative and nicely made brochures at the trailhead start which contains glossy photos of the preserve. The preserve is made up of 5 trails that comprise the trail system; Hell Creek Trail, Canyon View Trail, Horsetheif Trail, Rodriquez Peak Trail and Paradise Mountain Trail. These trails total about 13 miles if you hike each and every one. However, the trail hiked on this day was a little over 9 miles leading up to Paradise Mountain which included the Hell Creek Canyon Trail at the start, the Rodriquez Mountain Trail that fed into the Paradise Mountain Trail and then looping back around to the Hell Creek Canyon Trail and back. The hike starts out descending which of course means on the return it is ascending. Although not terribly aggressive, after you’ve hiked 8 miles of trails including a pretty steep ascent up to Paradise Mountain, that last Ascent to end your hike is definitely a challenge. Hell Creek Trail offers a diverse start to your hike, hard packed sand through a dessert type landscape quickly turns into low lying greenery and California Oaks. This part of the hike is leisurely and easy to do. Off in the distance you can see Rodriquez Peak and Paradise Mountain. As my hiking partner commented, “Oh, that doesn’t look very far to the summit.” Famous last words as I’ve never been on a hike before where you have to hike nearly two miles before you get to the base of the mountain. The whole area of the preserve opens up to many beautiful scenic views and is well worth the journey that lies ahead. As a reminder if you want to take on the Paradise Mountain and Rodriquez Peak Trail which is quite strenuous id follow the advice of the Preserve brochure which states; “To minimize the severe change in elevation, we recommend hiking this loop in a counterclockwise direction.” We of course read this as we were about done with our hike and about to ascend out of the canyon. The hiking trails are well-marked, very clean trails and except for some spots near the top of Paradise Mountain on both the ascent and descent, which are rockier, are smoothed hard packed trails. As you start to ascend these trails the soil turns from sand color to red clay, which as we found out on a damp day can turn to red mud. The highlights of this hike for me were the views from Rodriquez Peak and Paradise Mountain. Viewpoints are marked V! which offer a great view of the San Luis Rey River valley and V2, which gives you a view of Hell Hole Canyon. I’ve not been on too many hikes that offer you such a mountainous panoramic view. Also, it’s a great view of the valley below including both Valley View and Harrah’s Casinos. You really do feel high up looking down on those far away structures. The summit of Paradise Mountain sneaks up on you, so as soon as you see the V1 marker you are pretty much there. At this point from trailhead start and remembering we did the “clockwise” route up, you are about at the 4.1-mile mark, we stopped at about mile 4.33 and had lunch. This spot offered a great view of the San Luis River Valley. After lunch we just continued hiking “clockwise” on the trail and back down the Paradise Mountain Trail, which eventually met up with the Hell Creel Trail. This trail led us back to the trailhead start. A side note; There is a spot in the Preserve called Abandoned Homes, which we did not go to but does look like an interesting landmark. You can see this area as you descend Paradise Mountain. I enjoyed everything about this hike and trail system including the diverse trail landscape, the challenge of the hike, a climb up a mountain, great views from everywhere and the fact you can quickly turn a 3 mile hike into a 9 mile one if you choose. Although, snakes, bobcats and coyotes are common in the Preserve we didn’t see any, which for the most part works for me. Although I do enjoy seeing these beautiful creatures of nature, just not too close. With Rodriquez Peak and Paradise Mountain in the background the final climb out of the canyon led us back to our starting point and the staging area of the Preserve. It’s always a great feeling of accomplishment at the end of any hike, and Hell Hole Canyon did not disappoint regarding accomplishment. If you are looking for a hike that most up here in North County don’t know about I highly suggest hiking Hell Hole Canyon whether it be a 3 mile or 9 mile hike, the Preserve has a lot to offer!
On the two-year anniversary of my adding the hiking experience to my journey I’m reminded that my first hike was at Torrey Pines Reserve. Now two years later I am hiking places such as Hell Hole Canyon, what a great experience it’s been and I am looking forward to what trails lay ahead on my hiking journey.
Hellhole Canyon Preserve 19324 Santee Lane Valley Center, CA 92082
Phone number: (760) 742-1631
Directions: From Escondido take East Valley Parkway to N. Lake Wohlford Rd. Go right on N. Lake Wohlford Rd. for 6 miles to Paradise Mountain Rd. Make a right at Paradise Mountain Rd. Take Paradise Mountain Rd. for 3.5 miles to Kiavo Rd. Take Kiavo Rd. one block to Santee Lane and make a left up the preserve entrance.
Hike-ability: Easy in spots, strenuous in other’s depending on if you climb Paradise Mountain
Water & Food: Cool weather made it easier on water but still consumed 70 oz. Brought Lunch and snacks too. Whatever lunch is make it a protein.
Distance: 9 Miles
Temp, Time: 50’s, 4.5 hours