A lovely brook at the Elfin Forest Reserve

Elfin Forest


When I first heard the name of this park, Elfin Forest, my mind automatically flashed to images from one of my favorite books, The Hobbit.

When Bilbo Baggins (the original Trail Guy and my personal hero) came upon the original Elfin Forest, they threw him a huge party complete with mead (really, really good beer) and light wafers that tasted like honey. The Elf king and queen came out to greet him personally and they danced and partied amongst the trees until the next morning.

When I came upon the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Encinitas, I wasn't expecting to exactly hang with Elves. Nor was I expecting to drink beer. (Though the idea sounds good now.) I was hoping, actually, to do some serious mountain biking.

And I wasn't disappointed. The network of rugged trails at Elfin Forest run for more than 17 miles and offer some of the best single-track riding in the coastal mountains. (Single track, by the way, is Trail Guy lingo for "a mountain biking trail so narrow that one false turn will send you plummeting into a ravine.") Sometimes I had to dodge a hiker or dismount my mountain bike to allow an equestrian to pass.

These trails welcome hikers and horseback riders too, but for me, this was the place to release some grease. (That's mountain biking.)A bit of the "Way Up" trail

Getting started on these trails is the most difficult part. Starting from Harmony Grove Road (where most visitors park), I began peddling toward the network of dirt paths via the mother trail, called the Way Up Trail. This steep, gravel-laiden path is the only way to the top of the mountain and, as you can see from this map, is the only route to all the other trails.

If ... you ... can ... make ... it.

They weren't kidding when they named this trail folks. It is incredibly steep (I didn't have my protractor with me but I swear there was one section where I was riding upside down) and it's as rocky as the Mike Tyson and Robin Givens marriage. It was difficult to maneuver the bike around the rocks and pits in the road (not to mention the mushy, tred-filling remnants left behind by the horses and dogs) when I could actually pedal.

I spent a majority of the trek actually walking the bike up the mountain! But once I made it to the Ridge Top Picnic Area, I took a short break and got geared up for the other trails.

The first satellite trail I took made a loop that overlooks Lake Hodges. It is called the Lakeview Ridge Trail and is about 1.5 miles long. You might get the urge to suddenly shout "Top of the world, ma!" as you stand hundreds of feet above the pristine beauty of nature. And I heartily recommend it.

If you are just starting to learn mountain biking, I wouldn't recommend bringing that expensive new bike up here. You may just wrap it around a tree on one of the steep descents. I'd hike it first.

The natural beauty of this park includes a plethora of oak riparian, oak woodland, coastal sage brush and (a Digital City favorite) Chaparral, which is especially populous along the other major mountain biking trail in the park, the Equine Incline Trail. This is a very fun ride (about 2.7 miles) with plenty of dips and turns and a big, steep, huge "If-I-get-my-hands-on-that-trail-guy-I'm-gonna-wring-his-neck" incline at the end that would be a great way to top off your trip.

It was a nice ending to mine. But I didn't like leaving the Trail Guy steed, "Pestilence," at home. I'm going to bring him next time and let him maneuver through all those rocks and curves on the Way Up trail.

Oh, by the way, I did see an elf on my way back. But I am writing it off as a sign of fatigue since I didn't remember to fill my water bottle and was suffering from dehydration. Could just as easily have been Bigfoot.

So, Trail Guy, how do I get there??

Take the Five to Encinitas. From there, the park itself does a better job of giving directions. Click here.

Send a trail suggestion to the Trail Guy!