Slot Canyon Near San Diego

San Diego County is home to a unique geologic feature that is more reminiscent of areas in Utah or Arizona. Annie’s Canyon Trail, also known as the Mushroom Caves, is a slot canyon open to the public near the San Elijo Lagoon in Solana Beach. In this slot canyon, you get up-close and personal with San Diego’s unique geology. On either side of you, you can observe these naturally eroding canyon walls. Don’t forget your camera – and a spirit of adventure! (Tag your Instagram photos with #anniescanyontrail).


See a true natural wonder – right in your county’s backyard –

Slot Canyon Near San Diego

The sandstone canyon walls display breathtaking shapes that are a don’t-miss gift from mother nature. What happens when thousands of years of coastal rains fall? In this particular case, those rains yielded a unique slot canyon – and what we think is one of the best hikes in San Diego – for us to appreciate and enjoy.

In this slot canyon, you get up-close and personal with San Diego’s unique geology. On either side of you, you can observe these naturally eroding canyon walls. Don’t forget your camera – and a spirit of adventure! (Tag your Instagram photos with #anniescanyontrail)

For years, the area known as “The Mushrooms Caves” in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve was off-limits. Of course that only prevented responsible, law-abiding hikers from going there. Vandals and ruffians still frequented the location, defacing the delicate sandstone canyon walls with graffiti and carvings, and using the area as a party spot.

Thanks to a generous donation by someone known only as “Annie,” as well as tremendous effort by volunteers, the area has been cleaned up and a new trail known as “Annie’s Canyon Trail” has been established. The hope is that by opening the area to the public it will no longer be a desirable hangout for illicit activities. As the trail has become instantly popular with San Diego hikers, it appears this will be an effective tactic.

The Annie’s Canyon Trail is located about halfway between the N. Rios Avenue trailhead and the Solana Hills Drive trailhead in the southwest region of the Reserve. Official trail maps have yet to be updated, but the new trail is pretty simple to find.

We decided to start from the Solana Hills trailhead since it appeared to have more parking and more hill climbing than the N. Rios Avenue trailhead. If you want a slightly easier route, I think N. Rios Avenue is your best bet. If you’re looking for a much longer excursion (8 miles or so round trip), you can start at the La Orilla trailhead at the opposite end of the Reserve.

We got an early start since we knew it was going to be a hot day, and were the only car parked near the trailhead when we arrived. The entrance to the Reserve was easy to spot at the end of Solana Hills Drive.

We made our way uphill along the wide, gravel path. We could hear traffic noise from I-5 down the hill on our right, but it was otherwise a beautiful and peaceful morning.

Honeybees buzzed lazily through the flowering buckwheat.

At the top of the hill we found an informational kiosk where another neighborhood access trail joined from the left. We continued straight.

The trail descended briefly, then climbed another small rise.


From here, we had a long downhill trek, with views of the freeway and the Lagoon beyond.

Around .4 mile, a narrow single-track branched off to the left. This would reconnect with the main trail again shortly so you can go either way, but we stuck to the wide, main path and continued straight. In another .1 mile there was another branch to the right, this one leading to the eastern half of the Reserve. We continued on the main trail as it bent left.

The trail soon entered a thick grove of Eucalyptus trees, providing some much appreciated shade on a warm summer morning. There was fresh mulch on the ground here, and we suspected we were getting close to the new trail.

At just over .6 miles, we found the first of two entrances to the Annie’s Canyon Trail.

We went about 20 feet up the trail to the second entrance, just because we wanted to see everything, but both routes will take you to the same spot.

We came to a green sign at the entrance of the canyon. To the left was the out and back route up to a view point for those who don’t want to traverse the narrow canyon. As we’d soon find out, the canyon is a bit more challenging than your average San Diego hike, so it’s nice to have the view point option if you’re not up to the full route. If you have a dog with you or a baby carrier, stick to the view point. The route through the canyon is a one-way loop – there’s NO room for people to pass, so make sure you travel counter clockwise here if you want to do the full loop.

We were going for the full experience, so followed the path to the right. At the start, the trail was nice and wide with brush on either side.

As we continued, the brush disappeared and the canyon narrowed.

You could still see bits of paint and carvings along the delicate sandstone walls on either side if you looked carefully, but a lot of work had clearly been done to clean up the area and try to restore its natural beauty. It was easy to know which way to turn as the wrong paths were blocked with chains and colorful signs reminding us to share this beautiful spot with its natural inhabitants.

The canyon continued to narrow, but so far we could walk normally along the trail.

We came upon a trail marker pointing to the left and dutifully followed it.

It started to get a little bit tight here, but we were able to squeeze through with only a little effort.

On the left we found a small cave we could climb in and explore. Here some painted graffiti was still intact, giving us an idea of exactly how distressed the canyon had been before the cleanup process.

We continued squeezing our way up the ever-narrowing canyon, quickly reaching a spot where we had to use indentations in the canyon walls as foot and hand holds to make our way through.

While this was definitely more challenging than a normal hiking trail, it was really pretty short and we were able to get through without too much drama. Keep in mind though, this trail has quickly become quite popular and there is zero room for passing, so make sure you exercise some patience and consideration if you get stuck behind a slower hiker (or some hiking bloggers who stop periodically to take pictures. Sorry!) By this point it was clear that this was not a good hike to bring a dog on.

Before long we came upon a metal ladder which assisted us up and over a high wall.

From there it was just a little more squeezing and pulling ourselves through until we eventually emerged at the view point area.

From here we could see down into the canyon through which we’d just come.

We could also admire the tops of the sculpted sandstone cliffs.

After taking in the views, we continued down the trail, getting some great vistas of the western side of the lagoon and Pacific Ocean beyond.

This side of the trail was a bit narrow in spots, but had sturdy stairs and was nothing like the squeeze through the canyon had been.

Slot Canyon Near San Diego Ca

We made our way down several steep switchbacks. The sides of the trail had new plantings in many spots that had not yet grown in, but I expect this will be an even more awesome trail once everything is established.

We quickly finished the descent and found ourselves at the start of the loop. From here, we retraced our route to our starting point.

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From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe exit and head west on Lomas Santa Fe. Turn right onto Solana Hills Drive and follow it to the end where you will find the trailhead. Park along the street. map

Total Distance:1.6 miles
Total Ascent:540 feet
Dog Friendly?:Leashed dogs are allowed but not recommended through the canyon
Bike Friendly?:Bikes not allowed

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For more information, visit:
San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy – Annie’s Canyon Trail
San Diego County Parks and Recreation – San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
Virtual Tour of Annie’s Canyon
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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