7,000 acres of nature, just 15 minutes from downtown

Did you know, Mission Trails Regional Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States?! And did you know, it has over 7,000 acres of nature to explore just 8 miles from downtown San Diego?! These are only a couple of the reasons why we love this “jewel in the city” so much. So if you have yet to make it out there for a visit, I’m about to give you more reasons than you need to put this beautiful park on the top of your to-do list.

#1. The Visitor Center – This state-of-the-art facility, is a great place to start your day at Mission Trails. First off, it’s FREE, and provides a great place to spend some time on any day, including the hot and rainy ones. The visitor’s center offers a wealth of information about local plants and animals, has activities for children, various art exhibitions, and opportunities to explore and discover. There is a 94-seat theater showing 4 movies a day, and a beautiful little library, with comfy seats and children’s books.

The library inside the Visitor’s Center. Beautiful and peaceful!

#2. FREE Guided Nature Walks¬†–¬† If you are unfamiliar with the area, or just want to venture out with your kids, a great place to start is with one of the many FREE guided nature walks offered by Mission Trails! The family discovery walk takes place on the 4th Sunday of the month from 3-4:30, and is perfect for a family with toddlers, or babies in carriers. If you have a preschooler or older child who can walk a bit farther, you’ll also enjoy one of the nature walks that takes place every Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday from 9:30-11am. There are several other opportunities for guided walks as well, including topics on wildlife tracking, bird watching, and even fishing at Lake Murray!

An example of events you may find on their calendar

#3. Hiking/Exploring –¬†Mission trails has over 60 miles of hiking trails, from easy to strenuous, but if you’re a beginner, or possibly just a family with small children who want to enjoy a bit more nature together, the following recommendations are a great place to get you started!

Oak Grove Loop Trail, after all the rain!

Oak Grove Loop Trail: Park at the visitor’s center, and cross the street that you drove in on to find Oak Grove Loop Trail. This easy 1-mile loop, is the perfect little hike to get your child out and exploring. You can start in either direction, but as long as you stay on the “inner trail” you will find a ton to discover, including an old Ewaa hut replica alongside a seasonal stream, which is a fun spot to stop and play in, or have a quick snack. If you’re feeling adventurous, continue on to the “outer loop” trail, which is just a bit longer and will return you back to where you started.

Visitor Center Loop: Again, park at the visitor’s center, and walk down the main driveway to find the entrance to this trail right at the gate. We enjoy going down the loop (starting on the same side as the visitor’s center) and working our way around. On this 1.5 mile loop, you will discover a couple of small pedestrian bridges, a few spots to catch an awesome view of the park, and, a few GREAT trees to explore.

Old Mission Dam: If you’re more into exploring than you are hiking, another fun spot is the Old Mission Dam. To get here, drive PAST the visitor’s center and continue onto the one way road through the park (Father Junipero Serra Trail, which is also an EXCELLENT place to ride a bike, or push a stroller). You’ll find a small parking lot at the end of the one-way road. If you can’t find parking here, there is usually plenty of street parking available. The dam, which is a historical landmark, is just down the hill (stroller and wheelchair accessible), and is almost always full of water. For a bonus adventure, climb the small set of stairs to the overlook, or


To find out more about what Mission Trails has to offer, and to view a complete listing of their events,Visitor’s center hours, and a complete trail map, head to the website at:



One thought on “7,000 acres of nature, just 15 minutes from downtown

  1. Susan kean says:

    Mission Trails is a hidden gem and my very favorite place to hang out when I visit San Diego!!

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