Sycamore Canyon is a San Diego County Preserve area that also encompasses the Goodan Ranch property in Poway. The preserve is accessible from the Poway side and from the Ramona side off of state Route 67.
The multi-use trails can be very quiet or a bustling area full of polite trail users. It always makes me laugh when Cricket and I are riding along and all of a sudden her rear end tightens up and scoots underneath her, ever so slightly. That is her signal that there is a bicycle approaching from the rear.
I appreciate the notice from my horse so I know to get to one side of the trail and tell the friends I am riding with to do the same. Most bicycle trail users will announce their approach, but some don’t so Cricket alerts me. Not being surprised and having my horse jump from the surprise is a wonderful thing.
At a little more than 2,000, acres the Sycamore Canyon Preserve is a mix of chaparral-covered hill and river rock trail, sandy water shed or dusty single-track riding surfaces and even some loose shale that is unforgiving on your horse’s hooves in areas. It really depends on which way you go and the trail you choose to take.
The staging area is quite a way past the entrance off of 67, so just keep going up the hill, you’ll see it on your right, eventually. I’ve had friends call me after entering to ask if they were going the right way since the staging area is tucked way back and up the hill.
“Yep, just keep coming, I promise,” is always my response, with a small chuckle under my breath, of course.
The staging area is a pull-through design and huge, I mean really, really big, so don’t be afraid of how to navigate this one! There is a porta-potty on-site for your convenience. The trail from the staging area contains quite a bit of gravel and is a longer downhill ride, so if your horse is tender-footed make sure you put her Cavallo or Gator boots on for this ride. Once at the bottom there are fewer rocky areas depending on the trail you choose, and mostly the river rock is round and smooth and to the side of the trail tread.
I remember the first time I rode Cricket out at the Sycamore Canyon Preserve. We rode with a couple of friends and took a trail, the Ridge Trail. It was lovely until we came to the part that was along the side of a hill and rocky.
The down side seemed so steep and the trail seemed so narrow. Riding a young horse on one of her first trail rides, I was a bit unnerved—Cricket was 3 years old at the time. Cricket walked along this trail plucking every weed and plant she could reach from the ground around her. One of them was at least an inch and a half around, practically a tree, and all I could think was that she was going to trip on this tree she was attempting to consume and plunge us both to the bottom of the ravine. I swear sometimes my imagination gets the best of me.
Of course that did not happen, and she eventually gave up on the tree and dropped it from her mouth. That was many years ago, and it was a nice ride nonetheless.
The preserve is quite popular with bicyclists and trail runners, so it’s typically fairly busy. Many of them come from the Poway side, and some even from Santee (Mission Trails Regional Park – which is not a way to attempt on horseback), so you won’t necessarily see the vehicles they’ve driven to the preserve entrance.
There can be small water crossings depending on what time of year you choose to ride. Rattlesnakes are also present must of the time, so remain ever aware of them.
With approximately 10 miles of trail, there are a couple of out and back or loop trails to explore and the trail map will help you decide where to ride prior to your visit. Summer and early fall months are hot and down in the canyons of the preserve the heat is extreme from late morning to late afternoon. Please keep the heat in mind when planning a trip to Sycamore Canyon.
The entrance is just a mile or so past Scripps Poway Parkway, heading from Ramona to Lakeside and there is no dedicated turn lane into the preserve, so really be aware of what is behind you and how fast they may be going. Signal early and slow way down when turning into the entrance. This also means that getting out and turning left onto Highway 67, you will be crossing traffic that is going 55 mph plus. Again, take your time and be safe.
I will often visit the area in my little car, no horse trailer or horse, prior to loading Cricket up for a ride just to ensure that I know how to best navigate when she is with me. Many of my pals do the same thing—our horses are very important to us and we do whatever it takes to keep them safe.
Sycamore Canyon is close to home and a fun ride in the cooler months of the year. I have yet to go into the preserve from the Poway side, but would like to someday.
Goodan Ranch Staging Area
16281 Sycamore Canyon Road
Highway 67 Staging Area (Sycamore Canyon)
13920 Highway 67
Phone Number: (858) 513-4737
Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.