Hello everyone! This is a friendly reminder that any of these fun places we may visit, we are a guest at. Please treat both businesses and trails with the utmost respect. We here at Hidden San Diego follow the 'Leave no Trace' mantra, meaning whatever you bring with you comes back with you. If you see trash on a trail, please do your part to help remove it. Remember, we are not picking up trash from another person but instead cleaning up for Mother Nature. Happy adventures!

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santa margarita river trail

De Luz & Sandia Creek Dr.
Fallbrook , CA. 92028

Phone: (760) 728-2303
33.401658, -117.251507

Hike: There are many different trails on this land    Level: Easy

Dog-Friendly: Yes    Kid-Friendly: Yes

Hours: 8am- half hour before sunset/daily


About the Santa Margarita River Trail

The Santa Margarita River Trail is located in the northernmost end of San Diego County in the rural community of Fallbrook. This is one of my favorite areas to explore because it is so lush year-round with a river running through it.

The Santa Margarita River is one of the only watering holes in San Diego Country that we are allowed to physically go inside.  Although no swimming is allowed, it is great to walk through as you cut from one trail to the next.

The preserve is open seven days a week from 8:00 AM until a half hour before sunset. If there is heavy rain, the park will close due to the dangers of swift water and washed-out trails.

While you’re in the area, make sure to visit Los Jilgueros Preserve nearby!

That possibility seems to be remote these days, but rain was once so plentiful here that it doomed a railroad line that ran from National City to Barstow. Access to the preserve is provided from Del Luz Road in Fallbrook.

This specific area was also once part of a massive Mexican ranchero that stretched as far west as Camp Pendleton. During our visit we encountered ruins that we speculated may have been part of the ranchero.

There are hiking trails that are shared with horses and mountain bikes and we took one which involved crossing the river on foot. If you do as we did, you will get wet so water shoes are recommended to avoid the unpleasant experience of stepping in fresh horse manure in your bare feet.

If you explore in springtime you will pass a stunning variety of flowers and other vegetation.


The Santa Margarita River Trail has a rich history. For centuries the river has helped sustain both the Pechanga and Luiseño tribes. The river became a source of great controversy between the state and these tribes over water rights.

Before European encroachment, the tribes had sufficient land and water for their people. After the land was taken from them and they were pushed onto reservations, water became in scarce supply for their people.

In recent years the Federal negotiation team has worked closely with the tribes to negotiate a settlement that secures a sufficient water supply to make the Pechanga Reservation sustainable as a permanent homeland for the Pechanga people.

These two insisted on meeting:

Expect to come across a few horses on your hike as these is a very popular equestrian trail:

First obstacle of many:

Wild mint, which is part of our Wild & Edible section:

Old ruins from the horse stable and railroad:

She was such a champ on this trip!

Then you get to a point where you have to cross the river by foot. No problem! Try to have some kind of water shoes as it’s a little painful on the soles of your feet AND there is horse poop scattered around! Bleh!

The coolness of the river is shocking for a second but then man does it feel nice! We went in winter too! I imagine it would feel amazing in the summer!

We found the smallest snail in the world!

We found the homestead ruins! There were agapanthas growing here which is unusual to see out in the wild.  I wonder if they were originally planted there when this home was still thriving!

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6 Reviews

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6 Reviews


  • Melissa
    Rating Overall Rating Difficulty Finding

    I love your website! I go hiking here a lot and have found little side trails (so beautiful a week after a good rain) but never saw any ruins, I’ll have to check it out again! Thanks!

    May 28, 2015

  • Hiker760
    Rating Overall Rating Difficulty Finding

    Remember there is a sign that says ticks are strong in that area. Another thing I was told by the locals is that there are many beavers in the area. Only problem I noticed is that many people go there to party and get wet. And I was disappointed in all the coolers and beer bottles/cans that were left behind. Other than that this place is great

    December 30, 2015

  • Zievo
    Rating Overall Rating Difficulty Finding

    the adress for the tunnel is 11049 Blythe road San diego california

    September 5, 2017

  • Anonymous
    Rating Overall Rating Difficulty Finding

    We have been to the river trail twice. Where are the fish? the birds? the squirrels? No wildlife at all…..hmmmm

    December 22, 2018

  • Cal McVay
    Rating Overall Rating Difficulty Finding

    The trail is separate from the Willow Glen Ponds? That area was closed over 20 years ago. We used to swim in the ponds, fish for bass, watch the beavers and dry off on the rocks that had prehistoric footprints embedded in them. My son and I hiked from the ponds all the way to Temecula when he was 9 years old. We had full packs and a small tent. Spent the night on a sand bar, thousands of stars, the sound of the creek (river). Not to mention the remains of the washed out railroad tracks and bridges!!

    March 11, 2020

  • Kevin
    Rating Overall Rating Difficulty Finding

    There’s much to be found on the Sandia creek hike. American Railroad history and Native American history coexist on this trail. This was the old location for the traintrack that was built here in the late 1800s. Theres multiple remnants of the railroad hidden along the trail. Everything from a wooden rail tie that exist in the middle of the trail just a few 100 yards from the trail head. Theres a famous rock on the trail where if you look closely, next to native grinding mortars (which are dated back to about over 1000 years old) there is evidence of where the railroad company workers drilled into a rock and lit dynamite right next to grinding rocks. Also very few know this,and it’s not even reported about online nor is it even recognized by the community or even given any sort of recognition at all for that matter. But the native burial site located in a clearing off willow glen. The story goes that back when they were clearing out the last of the native tribes during the construction of the railroad, one of the last conflicts between the natives and white settlers left an undocumented number of natives dead. The settlers told the last remaining tribesman that they couldn’t burn their dead anymore and they must be buried. Which is why you can find mounds of dirt that almost appear to look like bmx jumps (to this day) which actually is the unmarked Native American burial ground off willow glen in fallbrook.

    December 16, 2021

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