San Diego Hiking: Good Exercise for a Good Report Card

Kids being activeWhen it comes to physical fitness, San Diego children have a slightly poorer report card than the already dismal national average. The California Department of Education collects statistics from schools’ physical fitness tests, and the compiled data reflects America’s obesity epidemic. Instead of parking in front of the television or computer this weekend, why not enjoy some healthy family time out on the trail? Physical training may also have an interesting side benefit for your kids. The tests also show a correlation between good physical fitness and high academic scores.

No Excuses
San Diego’s open space parks and preserves await your exploration. Getting out into the fresh air with your spouse and family is both physically and psychologically healthy. Peruse the calories-burned benefits below then pull on your sturdy shoes and get hiking in San Diego!

Approx Calories burned in 1 hour:

  • Flat hike, leisurely pace (2mph) carrying no weight => 90
  • Flat hike, semi-leisurely pace (2.5mph), no weight => 120
  • Up and down hills, carrying 0-9 lbs weight => 360

Enjoy Nature On San Diego’s Hikes
What better way to get to know your children? On a trail lined with tangy-scented sage and birdsong filling the air, families get out of their usual environments. As the path curves around to a ridge, and a gauzy veil of early morning clouds drifts amid valley trees below, you won’t be thinking about who left towels on the floor, didn’t do homework or forgot to take out the trash. The surprising beauty of a bright blue pond appearing in the middle of pine forest or the sight of colorful orange-tipped butterflies flitting from monkey flowers in yellow, orange and red free the mind to focus on the present. Each step into a beautiful natural setting leads you to a spirit unfettered by the troubles left behind.

Happy hiking!With growing children, time races amid the busy-ness of life. Get out into the wilderness areas of San Diego, hike into a future of good memories and family bonds forged closer through pleasant shared experiences. Besides, hiking builds muscle and stamina –­­– good for your children.

Adults will also benefit. Hiking paves a wellness path toward continued physical fitness and activity, readying you for the time when you take a grandchild’s hand, and enjoy a beautiful San Diego hike.

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Don’t Miss the Mistletoe, Kiss in the Great Outdoors

Find out more about the book: 60 Hikes Within 60 MilesThis holiday season, take a hike under the mistletoe, and kiss your lover in the great outdoors.

On the trails of San Diego County’s natural preserves and parks, look up into the trees for clumps of wild mistletoe, and pull your soul mate close for a kiss. Growing on limbs in small bouquets (dwarf variety) or in large hive-shaped clumps so shaggy they nearly take over the tree, mistletoe attaches itself to branches for its livelihood, living off the tree’s juices.

The Name’s Origin
Centuries ago, people noticed the plant grew where bird droppings landed. In Anglo Saxon, “mistletoe” means “dung on a twig.” People once believed life sprung from bird droppings. Of course, we later realized that birds eat fruits and berries, and their seed-rich droppings help propagate plants.

Why Kissing?
The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe comes from several ancient myths. Viking lore tells of mistletoe’s ability to conquer death. In short, the mother of Balder, the Viking god of summer sun, reversed a curse on him by kissing everyone who walked beneath the plant.

A first century story from Britain expounds mistletoe’s miraculous fertility powers for humans- – – and it is easy to make a connection between fertility and kissing!

Los Penasquitos CanyonAncient legends aside, our modern culture recognizes the sprigs of green hanging overhead as an excuse to kiss. This holiday season, what better way to say “I love you” than to stroll hand-in-hand in San Diego’s beautiful wilderness areas? With the songs of birds and the hum of bees all around, pause beneath a patchwork-bark sycamore or other tree, look up into the branches for mistletoe, and lean close for a kiss.

See the box on the left for some of San Diego’s mistletoe-abundant trails. These areas and dozens more hikes are featured in Sheri McGregor’s new book: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego. The latest most up to date guide since the 2003 firestorms ripped through San Diego, McGregor’s book covers North, South, and East Counties, and serves as your guide to San Diego trails and nearby activities.

Wildreness Gardens PreserveRemember that mistletoe can be toxic, so follow the no-collection rule of area open spaces, and leave the plant for others to enjoy.

This December, take your lover’s hand and take a hike!

Off the Treadmill, Onto the Trail

A statuesque egretEvery New Year, scores of San Diegans promise themselves this is their year to get fit. But with the prospect of boring treadmill duty stretched yawningly before them, it’s no wonder so many New Year’s fitness resolutions fail.

Often right outside our office doors or a quick hop from home, many natural preserves and open space parks offer flat ground that allows for easy hiking. Even people who are not so physically fit can enjoy nature, and make their fitness regime fun.

A reader recently told me she’d lost weight using a treadmill in 2004. Too bad she hated every minute on the machine – – – literally, time spent going nowhere. Her New Year’s resolution is to use some of the shorter hikes presented in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego as her weekend reward.

Fringed Indian PinkIs your exercise a reward? Try getting out into nature. In San Diego, we’re fortunate to have several hiking areas that don’t require you to “rough it.” Often with learning opportunities and restrooms, San Diego’s natural preserves and open space parks offer a pleasant pastime while getting fit. In our mild climate, just a few steps from city streets, birds sing, flowers bloom, and the Zen-song of trickling
water drifts into the soul. In the great outdoors, even the rushing wind seems to say “hush-hush,” quieting the mind and spirit.

This New Year’s, make getting fit rewarding to the soul as well as the body. Step off the treadmill and step onto a San Diego hiking trail.
On average, hiking burns approximately 500 calories per hour (more or less depending on your weight, pace, terrain, etc).

In the shade of oaksTo get started, choose short, easy hikes (see the three listed on the left). Then consult the book’s individual trail write ups. These and many others in the book are perfect for beginning hikers starting a New Year’s fitness plan that beats the exercise equipment doldrums. A few steps into nature and you’ll be hooked . . . ready to try more San Diego hikes, which are categorized in the book by length, ease, and criteria including wildlife and water features.

As a native San Diegan and author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego, let me figuratively take you by the hand, and guide you along the trail. I’ll point out native plants, flowers, birds and other wildlife . . . and remind you to relax.

This New Years, step off the treadmill and into the serenity of the great outdoors. Let nature transform you – – – in body and mind!

Gardening with Native Plants

Recent rains helped green up our lawns, but San Diego’s water supply comes from other sources, meaning tough conservation efforts will be imposed again this year. With native plants, homeowners can turn off the water issue, and still enjoy a beautiful garden.

One of the best ways to find native plants you like is to visit local preserves and open space parks. In my book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego (60 Hikes – Menasha Ridge), I’ve pointed out and described plants you’ll see along the trails, which can help you identify and find ones you might like to use in your yard.

In San Diego County’s mild climate, many native plants begin to bloom in late winter, so even before the traditional spring season, hit the trail for a head-start on garden planning.

As a San Diego native familiar with the terrain, here are my tips to get started on a water-conscious dream garden:

  • Take advantage of abundant natural flora by hiking trails to see what plants you’d like for your garden. A good trail guide will help by identifying plants for you.
  • While enjoying a nature hike, scope out nearby plants. Also look at insects and birds to see what’s attracted to them. California Fuchsia, for instance, has red flowers hummingbirds love.
  • Take along your digital camera and snap plant photos for later comparison and identification.
  • Identify plant names using reference books such as my title, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego, and plant guide San Diego County Native Plants
  • Visit cultivated native plant gardens such as those at Los Jilgueros Preserve in Fallbrook. The preserve contains a firescape demonstration garden, providing an example of fire-resistant plants and landscaping (important, as last year’s firestorm proved).
  • With an eye toward fitting the plants into your own yard’s size and layout, study the size and growing style of wild varieties you find attractive, and do research. The California Fuchsia, for instance, may be wonderful for attracting hummingbirds, but the native also sends out shooter roots and can spread like wildfire – – – perhaps not good for a small area. Also consider your yard’s sun exposure and moisture levels. Many natives need dry summer periods to thrive.
  • Talk to a local nursery that specializes in native plants, such as Las Pilitas Nursery in Escondido, which carries 20 types of sage (for beauty and fragrance). Ask your nursery about hybrid varieties of native plants that might best fit your domestic growing needs.
  • Remember the “no-collection” rule for San Diego’s open space areas. Some natives are rare and endangered, such as the delicate Chocolate Lily growing in County grassland areas including Wright’s Field in Alpine. This native and many others won’t survive transplantation – – – you don’t want to contribute to its disappearance.

Some of San Diego County’s best native plant trails are short, so don’t require much physical exertion. Try the Elfin Forest Botanical Loop, for instance. A factual pamphlet provided there offers information. Another great trail, this one with a cultivated native garden, is the Los Jilgueros Preserve Trail in Fallbrook.

Native plants are surprisingly beautiful. My favorite is the matilija poppy with its big, fried-egg looking flowers on a bushy 7-8 foot plant.

Fall Sights On San Diego Hiking Trails

Everyone knows the trees grow colorful during autumn, but other fall sights await you on San Diego’s hiking trails. A few are fitting for Halloween…

Pretty Poison

t_1colorfulpoisonoakIn the fall months, poison Oak, which grows along many local trails in San Diego, can turn vibrant red and yellow. The big bouquets of color lure unsuspecting passersby to touch. Don’t, of course. Remember the three-leaf rule, and be on the watch for colorful foliage that stretches pretty tendrils across trail tracks, and twining up trees. The general rule is “leaves of three, let it be.” More specifically, poison oak’s three-leaf configuration grows with two leaves on either side of the stem, and one extending out like a middle finger (see close up). It’s easy to keep this in mind, and avoid this plant that gestures its irritating nature.

Witch’s Hair

Witch's HairThis is the popular nickname for the parasitic plant more officially known as California Dodder. This fleshy gold or orange colored parasite grows in hairy, wig-like clumps over shrubs, brush, and even cactus.A Parasitic Organism Other than its looks, there’s nothing really “witchy” or dangerous about California Dodder to humans. In fact, the Kumeyaay Indians native to our area used to pick and brew California Dodder as a tonic for black widow’s bite. But witch’s hair acts as a vampire to the plants it hosts upon. It latches on and sucks the life right out of them!

Spittle Bugs

Curious Spittle BugYuck! Are those wads of spit clumped on plants along the trail? No worries. An uncouth hiker didn’t leave you a disgusting surprise. Those wads of spittle are actually the protective covering of the spittle bug nymph, which surrounds itself with a mass of slimy bubbles formed from plant juices and fluids from its own body.This is just bad manners In time, the harmless spittle bug nymph grows into an adult and leaves the spittle wad to venture out into the world. The tiny adult spittle bug holds the record for the high jump, with an ability to hop to heights over two-feet. The scientific journal Nature reported on an actual spittle bug study. The lead study scientist says the bug’s jumping ability is the equivalent of a human jumping over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. That’s 630 feet high! Worried about getting hopped on by the adult spittle bug? Don’t be. It’s elusive and harmless, hopping but not . . . mad.


Wild RattlerHibernation is tied to low temperature, not necessarily the turning of a Wild Rattlercalendar page. In San Diego’s sometimes warm fall climate, rattlesnakes can still be out and about.
Trading Broomsticks for Hiking Sticks
Once October 31st is past, turn in your broomstick for a hiking stick. Nature offers this fun activity as a relaxing retreat from holiday stress. Burning extra calories out on the trail does wonders for the figure – – just what’s needed with all the extra holiday eating ahead.

Happy Hiking!

Hiking With Homeschoolers

Dateline: 3/17/06

By Sheri McGregor

As the weather turns, the soft, warm breezes of spring call for us to revel in the bright green of newly sprouted grass, and the promise of budding blooms that hold sweet scented rainbows inside. With the snow melted and the blue sky brightening their worlds, how do you keep your home schooled children on task? Take the task outdoors, of course. Hiking into nature provides the perfect environment for some whole learning that can cross the subject borders: physical education, science, history, social studies, literature, and art.

Before You Go

Get a local guidebook and research which trails will fit your child’s age and ability, as well as your other needs. Do you want long stretches of easy, flat trail on which to run? Can you bring along the dog? Are you seeking wildflowers for a lesson on native plants, their pollination or cycle of life? Determine your specific needs then find a trail that fits. (See below for hiking preparation and safety tips.)

Decide what you’ll study. Hiking lends itself well to several subject areas. Whether you get cooperative same-grade groups together, or bring your own or others’ homeschooled children of various ages, on-the-trail activities work. Below are a few possibilities.


These are just a few of the easy ways you can incorporate hiking into your lesson plans, for fun learning that promotes healthy physical activity. Plan ahead, so that as the weather warms and winter-weary students are anxious for the great outdoors, you can all take a pleasant hike.

1. Have middle grade students research local native plants, then look for and identify them in the field. Have them note what they found and draw pictures in their take-along journals. Back at home or in a cooperative home school group, children can share interesting facts about the plants they researched (verbally or written), or write a poem. You could enrich the study by reading nature essays and literature. Call a local nature photographer or writer to come in and speak to a group of home-schoolers you’ve gathered.
(Subjects: science, art, language arts.)

2.Choose and study a historical journey or event that fits your students’ grade level, then host a re-enactment on the trail. Fifth-graders can learn about Lewis & Clark, for instance then take little red wagons on a wide, flat hike, making notes of what they see just as the historical figures did.
(Subjects: History, Social Studies).

3. Study different types of rocks and how they form, then choose a trail that features some about which the children learned. Have them point out metamorphic or igneous rocks. Small, handheld rock samples are only the beginning. Out on hiking trails, children can get up close to towering boulders, and observe the earth’s work in more magnificent form. Have them use rich language to name the boulders based on shape or surface texture; i.e. “seal,” “hamburger,” “gritty” rock. Have them look at the trail’s soil. Is it made up of smaller, broken pieces of the big rocks they see? Younger children can pour water into the dirt. Is it porous? Dry? Soft? Back at home or in your group, share information about locations around the world where there are interesting, carved or sacred stones such as Easter Island, or islands with volcanic rock. (Subjects: science, physical education, literature, geography).

4. Grab up easels and paints, or drawing pads and pencils, and take children to a hike with a view. Teach them about perspective and let them experiment with it in their own nature art. (Subject: art)

Preparation and Safety Tips

a. Preview the trail, or use a detailed guidebook like one from the 60 Hikes series (right) in order to match the landscape to your lesson plan and children’s abilities.

b. Whether bringing your own children or home-schooled children in a bigger group, outline guidelines and rules such as staying on the trail to avoid snakes or someone getting lost. Have a “trail boss” and someone also bringing up the rear to keep anyone from straggling. Groups may want to invest in two-way radios so everyone can keep in touch.

c. Bring plenty of water. Better to err on the side of too much than too little. Even in mild weather, the body needs hydration. Many public hiking trails do not have drinking water available. Snacks or a picnic lunch are also good ideas.

d. Wear appropriate shoes and clothing. Is poison oak or ivy present? Long sleeves and pants are a plus. Sneakers with good tread are often okay. Actual hiking boots may be a better bet for slippery, rocky, or steep trails.

e. Bring a camera.

f. Most of all – – have fun!