Featuring Elfin Forest, or Is That Mt. Israel?
January, 1998
1998, Tom Leech

To start the new year, we'll look at a popular hiking and riding area smack in the middle of neighborhood communities. And it's one that most people have a hard time finding, and even figuring out what name it actually goes by. So here's the Forum Multiple-question Quiz. Where is Elfin Forest? How did it get that name? What does it have to do with Mt. Israel and how did that get its name? Where is it anyway?

Nestled among the bustling communities of Escondido, Del Dios, San Marcos, and Carlsbad is this island of relative tranquility. Within the 750 acre open space park are a year round stream, picnic areas, riparian forest, great views and 17 miles of trails available to hikers, bikers and equestrians. If you want to get either away from or above it all, go check out the Elfin Forest, a project of the Olivenhain Water District in cooperation with BLM (Bureau of Land Management).

It starts from the large paved parking lot (with facilities), with room for horse trailers as well as vehicles. Right beside the creek is a picnic area, with trails along Escondido Creek. There's lots of shade along here, and it's a true babbling brook as the water courses over the rocks. Even if you don't go any further this is a pleasant spot to explore - except when the babbling become racing as winter rains lead to overflown banks.

One hike immediately accessible to the left is the Botanical Trail, which makes a modest loop hike upward and back to the picnic area. To the right is the Escondido Creek Trail, which follows the creek, then crosses over and continues on to a maintenance road and unimproved trails.

The primary access for most people, however, is the Way Up Trail (guess why it got its name). This is the boring, but essential, first phase of the day's hike, 1.6 miles winding upward and about 30-40 minutes. Take water and wear lug soles boots.

Once at the ridge, you'll see trails spreading out in all directions, through lots of chaparral and little shade (which is why it's a good hike now, not in August). Take the 2.7 mile Equine Incline Trail to the right, from where you'll look across to the hillsides burned black in the last year's Harmony Grove Fire. Head off to the left along the Valley View and Lakeview Ridge Trails, which looks down onto Lake Hodges. (Wouldn't it be terrific if we could develop a linking trail down to Hodges and the San Dieguito River Park?). You can choose a loop of 4, 6 or more miles back to the starting point at the top of Way Up Trail. Or for an easier trek, get to Tykes' Hike Trail and the Elfin Forest Overlook and see the world all around you from the Pacific Ocean to the mountains. High point is about 1350 feet.

This is a hiker-friendly trail system, with many picnic tables, rest stops, toilet facilities (with even trash cans for recycling road apples (O.K., horse droppings) to go with these fine views. Open 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m. (winter hours). Dogs ok, on leash. Bikes ok on trails as marked.

About 300 acres of the reserve were burned in the September Del Dios fire. Already appearing are the early "fire flowers," per Ranger Sue Pelley. She predicts a spectacular flower display in the spring, so plan a hike later as well as now. (Similar results occurred at Iron Mountain last year.) For further information about Elfin Forest, contact the water district at 760-753-6466. Or TECC, The Escondido Creek Conservancy, at 760-471-9354.

Now for those quiz answers, none of which were in my usual source of San Diego place names. Ranger Pelley provided the information, which corrected some of my misconceptions:.
(1) "Elfin Forest" traces back to the religious retreat located there since the 40s. Dr. Harvey Urban was affiliated with the Questhaven Fellowship and his children started calling the area the Elfin Forest after a novel and because it seemed to fit the miniature nature of much of the foliage here.
(2) "Mt. Israel" is another label often used to describe this area, yet there is no Mt. Israel on the map. This name came from an early 1840's homesteader, Robert Israel, later the lighthouse keeper at Point Loma.

Directions: From I-15. To west 78 to Nordahl Rd, becomes Citracado Parkway south/left. Cross Mission Rd, bear right to Country Club Rd. 2-3 miles to Harmony Grove Rd, right. 2 miles to entrance. From I-5. East on La Costa Road to Rancho Santa Fe Rd, left; to Questhaven, right; to Elfin Forest Rd, right; to Harmony Grove Road, right. 1.5 miles to reserve.