Santa Margarita River
52 in 52,  Hiking,  USA

52 in 52, Episode 1: Santa Margarita River Trail

Last Updated on January 7, 2022 by Polly Dimitrova

This crazy idea all started as a joke between my husband and I while on a New Years Jaunt down a local river trail – Santa Margarita River Trail. We stayed up far past our bedtime on December 31st, slept in all the way to 8:30 am. Realizing our mistake, we threw on clothes and ran out the door, racing off to start the year where we are happiest – in Nature! While going along the trail, I wistfully joked that we could possibly go on a hike every weekend and my husband suggested I could write a new series on this, 52 in 52! That being, 52 hikes in 52 weeks. Little did I know that the 52 hike challenge already existed. So, before I knew it I had already signed up and I am looking forward to this journey in 2022 and of course taking you along with me and sharing all the hiking adventures we will embark on!

It sounds like a daunting challenge not at all removed from the realities of life, but I loved the idea and decided to sit down, write this article, and challenge myself to 52 hikes in 52 weeks. Keep reading below for the first stop along our journey – Santa Margarita River Trail!

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Beautiful Greenary along the Santa Margarita River Trail

Note: If you also love being in nature and would love to give yourself a little challenge for the new year – head to the 52 Hike Challenge and sign up as well!

Santa Margarita River Trail

Distance: 3 miles (4,8 km) round trip

Elevation Gain: 150 ft (45 meters)

Duration: 2 hours round trip

Difficulty: Easy

Access: Free

Hours: sunrise-sunset

Dogs: Allowed om Leash

Starting Point: 33°24’48.5″N 117°14’29.7″W

Note: The area is home to rattlesnake and poison oak, so take the necessary precautions.

Me snapping photos at Santa Margarita River Trail

How to Get to Santa Margarita River Trail

Situated just 3 miles from Fallbrook in North San Diego County, Santa Margarita River Trail is a popular destination among the residents of Southern California. Regardless of where you are coming from, you are most probably going to have to follow Highway 76, before heading West along Mission Road. You would need to take Pico Avenue in about 5 miles, which then becomes De Luz Road. Make sure to take a right, in about a mile to follow Sandia Creek Road. This part of the drive despite being short is quite picturesque. The tree branches form a beautiful tunnel over the road to remind you, you are entering the peaceful and quiet nature preserve.

In another mile, you will reach a small paved parking lot on the right. Parking fills up pretty quick on the weekends, so make sure to get an early start to your day! It is a bit confusing as well, as traffic goes in a clockwise manner, so stay straight and try finding a spot!

When to Visit Santa Margarita River Trail

Santa Margarita River Trail is suitable to visit any time of the year. The path is fairly well shaded making it perfect for a warm summer day. Depending on the time of the year, though, you will get to enjoy a wide variety of plant species. Spring is perfect if you would like to enjoy the brightly colored wildflowers.

We visited on January 1st and the day was perfect for a short hiking trail to start off the year right! Even though Southern California rarely shows any signs of fall, Santa Margarita River Trail greeted us with a colourful carpet of leaves in shades of orange, red and yellow!

We will need to go back later in the year, so I can make a full comparison, but so far I absolutely loved this little hike for the “colder” months in Southern California.

Boulders and Beautiful Orange and Red leaves along the Santa Margarita River Trail

About the Trail

Visitors will find the trailhead immediately to the left of the parking lot. A trail board and a few signs mark the start of the hike. Make sure to stop for a second and grab a map, as it may come in handy along the way. We did not – hence the reason why we never made it to the end of the actual Santa Margarita River Trail.

The trail is almost entirely flat and quite easy, so it is also a great option for families with smaller children. Only at the very beginning of the hike, you will need to go through a rocky narrower part. Make sure to stay to the right, as the trail winds along the river valley. Soon after the path evens out and starts meandering through the oak and sycamore forest.

Somewhere along this section of the hike, we took one of the smaller river crossings to the left and went closer to the river. The water was peacefully cascading over several rocks, allowing us to enjoy a few moments of tranquility and quiet away from the trail.

Once we were back on the path, we kept following the brown markers along the main trail The next section of the hike was themed by a narrow path flanked by large boulders on either side, inspiring Alex. He did a little exploration of his own – climbing gigantic boulders – while I laughed and snapped a few photos!

Continuing down the path another quarter mile, you will reach a confusing intersection. This is a spot where I recommend you consult the map from the beginning of the trail. We took a left towards the 12th river crossing and viewpoint, however, it is the path to the right which would actually take you further along to the end of the Santa Margarita River Trail. We were not the only ones who stayed on the left, so it seems the right side of the trail is not as popular.

As we stayed to the left, it was not long before the trail ended at a picturesque river crossing. We decided to climb over some boulders and found ourselves a large rock rising high in the middle of the Santa Margarita River. We greatly enjoyed our rock and decided it would be perfect for our lunch spot, spending at least 30 minutes soaking up the sun!

We really enjoyed this easy hike and only while writing this article and looking at the map did we realize it was not the full length. There are so many side trails and the full length left to be explored so I definitely say we will be back. Next time, we will follow the correct path and try to find the hidden beach!

On the first day of the year, we did approximately 3 miles and completed the first of 52 hikes for the year. I’m certainly looking forward to the next hiking adventures and sharing the journey with you! #52hikechallenge

Let me know in the comments below if you have done the 52 hike challenge or if you are currently in the process of completing it!


  • Chantelle

    This looks like a great trail! I hope you find the hidden beach and do a post on that! I love that you are doing the 52 in 52 challenge!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      It was a great little trail. Yes, we will definitely go back because I would love to try to find it and of course, will update the article with the directions to the beach as well 😀
      Yes, it has been great so far. Looking forward to see what else the year will bring!

  • Jamie Italiane-DeCubellis

    When I first read this and heard about the 52 in 52 I thought that sounds great, but what about a weekend full or rain or snow. Then I read that you are from San Diego, so much less chance of rain and none of the snow. Did you end up hiking in the rain or going during the week?

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, it was a random idea – my husband suggested we do 52 in 52 – attempting to do 52 hikes during the year while we were on this trail. Once I researched it when we got back, I realized that this challenge already existed so it was just natural to join 😀
      Ahahaha, no, there has been barely any rain in San Diego. Every weekend so far has been filled with sunshine – so we have been lucky with that.
      We go on hikes during the week sometimes instead, though and not every week needs to be a very strenuous long hike.
      The challenge itself also includes even a small 1-mile walk around your neighbourhood – but I try to do these on regular basis anyway, so I decided that we will try to do more of a hike every week and share our experience along the way.
      One of the weeks, we did just a little walk around a local park, but one of the other weeks (when we were in Death Valley) we did multiple hikes in just 3 days.
      The most important thing for us is to take some time off every week and spend some time in nature – away from the screens just enjoying the greenery surrounding us

  • Clarice

    This is such an amazing and ambitious challenge – I love it! I can’t get enough of being outdoors. I’ve really enjoyed reading some of your different articles about this challenge. Did you do all of your hikes in California, or other statues as well?

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Thank you, Clarice! Yes, we love being outdoors and nature as well, hence, why we decided to join the challenge.
      Many of the hikes are around the San Diego county as that is where we currently live. We went to Death Valley in January so 3 of the episodes are from there as well.
      We have not made it out of state this year yet, but hopefully, we will be able to soon 🙂

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    I love that you are exploring such a great variety of trails. This easy Santa Margarita River Trail sounds like one we would love to wander. I think we would visit on the quiet weekdays and avoid parking challenges. It will be interesting if you go back to see how different it looks at another time of year. And if you follow different paths.

    • Polly Dimitrova

      That is definitely what we are planning on doing at some point! After coming back we realized that there were a few paths we could have taken – always good to have a map! 😀

  • Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

    I love the idea of 52 hikes in 52 weeks, I am doing something a little similar with restaurants but I think finding 52 hikes is a great idea! The Santa Margarita trail looks beautiful especially for January! It’s good to know that it’s accessible all year long and that there’s a good amount of shade. Your other posts in this series look cool as well, I’ll have to check some of them out!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Thank you, Kevin! Woow, that sounds so much fun as well with finding new restaurants and trying different food! Great idea for foodie lovers as well!

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