Annie’s Canyon Trail, An Impressive Slot Canyon Hike in San Diego

Annie’s Canyon trail is a San Diego County coastal favorite. Not only is it one of San Diego’s best kept secrets, but it’s also a super cool slot canyon! Nestled within the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, it was once a run down canyon inhabited by transients, plagued with illicit drug use and vandalism. As the story goes, local residents and a very generous donation from a person named “Annie” had the area cleaned up and revitalized.

The N. Rios Avenue trailhead now provides a fabulous family friendly scenic 1.5 mile hike. It’s rapidly gaining notoriety for its Instagram worthy sandstone canyon photo opportunities. If you want a longer hike (about 8 miles), begin on the other side of the San Elijo Reserve at the La Orilla trailhead. For the full video scroll all the way to the bottom.

N. Rios Avenue Trailhead location

Located in Solana Beach, head west on Lomas Sante Fe from the 5 freeway and hang a right on N. Rios Avenue. Head down this sleepy residential street boasting with “drive like your kids live here” signs. As you approach the cul-de-sac, look for street parking. It’s open from sunrise to sunset however best to come early if you want to beat the crowds and the heat.

At the N. Rios trailhead- starting our hike to Annie’s Canyon trail
Annie's Canyon San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve trail map.
San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve trail map
Annie's Canyon Trail Info
San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy signage about restoring the reserve
Trail Details

The trail starts with a few wide flat steps down into the Reserve. During the many trips we have made, we have never seen a stroller. This is likely due to the periodic steps coupled with the narrow trails. The trails are toddler friendly and babies are usually worn in pouches or hiking packs. Today, my 7 year old, 4 year old and 4 month old (in a front wearing pouch) made the hike. Leashed dogs are welcome but leave Fido at home if you plan to hike the difficult (sandstone slot canyon) side of Annie’s Canyon. No dogs allowed in this part since it’s one way, very narrow, has 2 challenging step ups (about 3′ high) and ends with a steep ladder.

As you stroll along under the tree canopy, it’s chilly. However, the air warms once the path flattens out as it drops down into the reserve (wear a hat, it gets sunny). When you reach the green Annie’s Canyon sign (pictured below), you can continue on (to the right) or hang a left to stroll along the salt marsh/wetland. The path along the marsh does eventually circle back up to the main pathway.

Annie's Canyon Trail sign
hang a left for the marsh/lagoon (it will circle you back up to the main pathway
The Salt Marsh

The pathway parallels the marsh/wetlands and kids will likely see ducks, fish, lizards and possibly some fun animal footprints (we saw raccoon prints today). This wetland is filled with over a thousand species of plants and animals. After passing the salt marsh/wetland, the path will take you back up to the main trail. If you want to continue on to Annie’s Canyon, hang a left. Continue on until you get to a large open area (with a dead palm tree) and follow the path up to your right. At this point you will see the brown Annie’s Canyon sign (pictured below), then you will reach another green trail sign (also pictured below).

The brown Annie’s Canyon sign
Annie’s Canyon Trail sign which gives you the 2 options (easy switchbacks or “difficult” slot canyon)
Annie’s Canyon Trail

The “difficult” trail through the sandstone canyon is one-way, gets narrow and a bit cramped, which means… no going backwards! This is especially tricky during crowded times if you missed a photo opportunity or if you dropped something (like I have done). Also, if you know you’ll be slow, best to let others pass in the beginning (before getting too far into it).

Annie's Canyon Slot Canyon
Annie’s Canyon Trail (the slot canyon)
Annie's Canyon Slot Canyon
Further into the sandstone slot canyon, the trail narrows
Annie's Canyon Slot Canyon
a cave with remnants of the vandalism & smoke stains (prior to the restoration)

As the path winds through the sandstone slot canyon, there are 2 challenging parts where you have to step up about 3 feet. Toddlers will need a boost up and adults with babies in carriers may need a hand since there is very little to grab onto (the sandstone walls are smooth here). This is also the case when you get to the steep ladder towards the end. (the Annie’s Canyon trail starts at about 2:45 in the video below).

After climbing the ladder you have reached the top! Many more amazing views across the wetland and to the ocean. To get down, there are some wide steps and slightly steep switchbacks. Eventually, bringing you back to the original path.

It’s a wonderful outdoor family friendly coastal activity. A family favorite activity for us!

For more information about Annie’s Canyon, visit the Nature Collective.

If you are local to California and are looking for an incredible ski vacation with the kids check out How to Ski Mammoth With Kids.

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