Guide to hiking Hellhole Canyon County Open Space Preserve near Valley Center, CA

Last trip report: 3 May 1997

Trail Condition
How To Get to the Trailhead
Trail Guide
Views from the Trail
Trip Log
Plot of altitude versus distance
Jerry Schad's Guide

Trail Condition

The trails in Hellhole Canyon are in beautiful shape - well-maintained paths with no problems with chapparal.

Number of notable scratches due to brush along trail: None.
Number of scratches drawing blood: None.
Last time trail area burned in major fire: Looks like a long time ago. However, this was before the fire of 5/18/97, which burned 600 acres.

Comments: I've only hiked the lower trail, but the upper trails look to be in great condition, too.

How To Get to the Trailhead

Trailhead location: From Lake Wohlford Road, 2 miles south of Valley Center Road, take Paradise Mountain Road east for 3-4 miles to its junction with Kiavo Drive. Take Kiavo Drive north to its junction with Santee Lane. The park entrance and parking lot are immediately to the west on Santee Lane.

Map from Vicinity MapBlast! of trailhead:
Parking Lot for Hellhole Canyon County Open Space Preserve.

Trail Guide

Topo Map: Rodriguez Peak
Distance: 5 miles to Escondido water siphon and back. Longer hikes are possible to the peaks 3040 and 3127 at the north boundary of the Preserve, but I don't know the mileage for those.
Cumulative altitude gain and loss: +600 / -600 to siphon. +1600 / -1600 to 3127' peak
Plot of altitude versus distance for siphon trip.
My total trip time: 3.5 hours for siphon trip.

All mileages below are cumulative from the trailhead and all altitudes are from the topo map.

The beginning of the trail at the parking lot is called the "staging area", and is noted as such on several of the nice trail maps given at trail junctions.

The trail begins with a steep descent to Hell Creek, with a nice wooden bench halfway down the descent located in shade. Whoever is responsible for placing that bench there deserved much thanks from hikers on the way out!

Hell Creek is reached after 3/4 mile, and the trail now follows the route of the Escondido aqueduct that was bypassed with the siphon.

The aqueduct itself is miles long, and formed by cutting a channel along the base of the cliff, leaving (or creating) a wall away from the cliff to confine the water. The trail sometimes goes along the bottom of the aqueduct, and sometimes on top of the wall. In several areas the wall is made out of concrete, but usually is made of dirt and/or boulders. In one of the side canyon crossings before the first trail junction, a pipe must have been present to span the crossing with the aqueduct. There are remnant supports for the pipe on each end of the side canyon.

In other side canyons farther along the trail, the canyons themselves have been dammed by the outer wall, allowing the water from those side canyons to enter the diversion.

After 1 mile, there is a wooden sign on your right saying "stay on designated trails", or something like that. Immediately to your left is the trail that leads into private property containing the house and property that was the subject of the fascinating facts written up by Jay Peterson so well. (Unfortunately, his stories are no longer online. If anyone has a copy of them, I'd be happy to put them back online.)

In fact, there is no sign remaining attached to the post on your left. It's understandable that it may not be encouraged for the public to go that way, since it is not part of the Preserve and the trail is eroding severely because the trail is not up to the standards of the trails in the Preserve. However, should you go that way, along with the many other people and horses that have also done so, you'll reach the now-severely vandalized house after 1.5 miles. It is somewhat depressing to view what has happened to the vast amount of work that went into that property in the past. I hope that property will eventually be given to the county, since it isn't obvious that it has much other use.

Continuing northwest from the house, and taking the left road at a Y-junction that says "no-trespassing" with someone's name below, brings you to the main road. Turn right, and there will immediately be a sign on your left pointing out the trail to the siphon, which is but a stone's throw away, at 2.25 miles.

A good rest stop is at the large rock on the other side of the creek. Crossing under the siphon you see the "scale drain" at the bottom of the pipe, with a surprisingly small pile of scale underneath it.

The official trail climbs 150' halfway up the ridge to the north as it works it way back to the route of the old aqueduct. At 2.75 miles you reach a trail junction that allows you to continue left and then up to the 3127' peak, but go right to go back to the staging point.

At 3.5 miles you reach a second trail junction that offers the same choices by a different route to the 3127' peak. Continue right again to return to the trailhead.

At 4.25 miles you are back at Hell Creek, with a new-found appreciation for the effort required to make that small portion of the agueduct. At 5.0 miles you reach the trailhead again.

I have been unable to find any written information about Hell Canyon, and would appreciate it if anyone knowing more about the Preserve would email me.

Trip Log

See Trip Log.

Views from the Trail

At the beginning of the trail, Rodriguez Peak is prominent as the rightmost of the 3 peaks in front of you. The trail snaking up to the 3127' peak is visible. The Valley Center Road in the Rincon Indian Reservation is visible on your left, ending at the community of Rincon and the San Luis Rey River Valley. Also on your left is the siphon, which is painted silver but looks white from the beginning of the trail.

Go to North San Diego County area hikes

Copyright © 1997 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 19 November 1997 (removed a dead link and incorrect information about the source of the former aqueduct on 4/14/00.)