Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Water views, lodge ruins await day hikers at Lake Morena park

Lake Moreno.
Photo courtesy of
San Diego County

Ward's Flat and Morena Butte trails runs through
mix of desert, mountain ecosystems by San Diego

In arid Southern California, a lake is a rare sight, and man-made Morena Reservoir serves as one of the few. Two great day hiking trails when combined offer a great lakeside walk and view from a butte.

At about 3,000 feet above sea level, Lake Morena Regional Park in San Diego County marks a good mix of desert, coastal and mountain ecosystems. The combination of the Ward’s Flat and Morena Butte trails takes you mostly through pretty chaparral woodland, though.

To reach the park, from Hwy. 94 near Campo take Lake Morena Drive north to the park entrance. From I-8, take Buckman Springs Road south to Oak Drive and turn right on Lake Morena Drive to the park entrance. Be forewarned that either route is quite a drive for little children.

Century-old reservoir
Upon arriving, park in a lot near the cabins (Restrooms are along the way!). Then walk the road past the youth area to the low-water launch.

Ward’s Flat Trail begins south of Low-Water Launch. A dirt road skirts the reservoir, which began to fill with water in 1897. The trial passes through a field of flowers that bloom a primary yellow in April and after a mile passes the remains of an old lodge with its foundation, chimney and wide entryway steps remaining. Glistening white in sunlight, rocky Morena Butte grows increasingly prominent with each step.

Beyond the chimney where trails intersect, amid an oak meadow, watch for the Morena Butte Trail sign. Take the dirt road heading to the left.

The trail quickly gains elevation through old live oaks, Jeffrey, Coulter and pinyon pines as heading southeast for a half-mile. After that, the trail swerves northwest for another half-mile. The butte top offers some great views of the deep blue reservoir and Laguna Mountains beyond to the northeast, Hauser Canyon when looking south and west, and in the distance Barrett Lake when gazing west at the canyon’s end.

Ranger station exhibits
Watch the skies for bald eagles and migratory waterfowl over the reservoir. Looking the ground, you’re certain to see lizards, a squirrel or two, and maybe even a bobcat paw print.

Morena Butte Trail loops back to Ward’s Flat Trail for the return walk home for a 3-mile round trip. With teenagers, you can continue on to Hauser Overlook or Hidden Cove trails for a longer hike.

On the way back, stop off at the ranger station for its exhibits of historic artifacts, which include arrowheads and lodge guest books more than half a century old.

Dogs are welcome at the park, though they must be on 6-foot leash. Amenities include a campground, boat launch and cabins. A user fee is charged to park your vehicle.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.