Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve Revisited

Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve

Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve is our absolute favorite spot to go hiking in San Diego county. Although it’s over an hour’s drive from where we live, it is well worth the trip. Karlie and I visited several times and today we took Sunny for her first time….and she LOVED it. And what isn’t to love? This preserve has miles of trails that lead to or overlook the river, areas where you can get down to the water, huge boulders overlooking the river, a challenging trail, and benches for taking a break. An added bonus is the big parking lot and port-o-potty at the start.

The trail starts by leading into a wooded area with the river on the left. After a short distance there are big rocks to climb over and then across a ledge. There is a lower section that parallels the ledge, but it still requires climbing over some rocks. This section is challenging for older dogs with mobility issues or people who are not steady on their feet. Sadly this is why we did not bring Karlie here on our last visit to San Diego. Sunny, however, had no trouble scrambling up the rocks and across the ledge.

start of the trail at Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve
the rocks
Sunny climbing the ledge
the lower trail

After the challenging section most of the rest of the trail is fairly flat, wide, and shaded. There are some areas with big boulders on the trail, but you walk between not over them. The main trail has several offshoots to the left that lead to the river and the trail ends at the banks of the river. There is also a trail off to the right that leads up near the backs of some homes. It’s quite a large incline and not shaded so this makes for a challenging and warm hike. The total distance from the parking lot to the end and back is just over 3M. Adding some of the trails to the river and up to the homes adds an additional few miles.

Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve
Dog on a rock
over the rocks at Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve
Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve
dog on a bench

Our Rating

Karlie, Sunny, and I rate Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve 4 out of 4 paws up. This spot has it all – a challenging but scenic dirt trail in the woods, a river where you can get your feet wet, large boulders to sit on and take in the views, some benches overlooking the river, a large parking lot, and a port-o-potty. There is truly something for everyone. The only possible downfall is the rocks and narrow trail at the beginning would be challenging for those with mobility or stability issues.

How do I get there?

The address for Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve is 4251 River Edge Road in Fallbrook, CA. From I-15 take exit 51 toward Mission Road in Fallbrook. Turn left onto Old Hwy 395, then turn onto Mission Road. Follow that for nearly 5M then turn right onto N. Pico Avenue which turns into De Luz Road. Follow that for just over 1M and veer right onto Sandia Creek Road. After another mile you will find the parking lot on the right. Walk to the back of the parking lot and enter near The Wildlands Conservancy sign.


For more information on Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve check out The Wildlands Conservancy website and our earlier blog.

Santa Margarita River Trail Preserve – The Wildlands Conservancy

Santa Margarita River Trail –

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