Annie’s Canyon Trail is a short but dramatic slot canyon trail tucked into the coastal bluffs near San Diego’s Solana Beach hamlet.
The canyon portion of the hike squeezes through an extremely narrow passage between sandstone walls that is only wide enough for one person to pass at a time. The hike culminates in a steep section near the top of a bluff that required climbing a short metal ladder.
- Trail type: Out-and-back with loop
- Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
- Length (from North Rios Avenue): 1.3 miles round trip
- Elevation gain and loss: 455 feet, -555 feet
- Trailhead Coordinates (from North Rios Avenue): 33.003610, -117.272518
- Location: Del Mar, San Diego
- Season: Year round
Getting to Annie’s Canyon Trail
Annie’s Canyon Trail is located in 979-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, which protects one of San Diego’s largest coastal wetlands and serves as home to numerous plants and animals.
San Elijo Lagoon is formed where Escondido and La Orilla Creeks meet the Pacific Ocean.
The reserve extends east 2.7 miles from Seaside State Beach on the coast, and is sandwiched between Solana Beach to the south and Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Encinitas to the north. Annie’s Canyon Trail is located in the southwestern portion of the reserve on the south side of the lagoon.
The canyon trail is typically accessed via one of three trailheads that start in the neighborhoods south of the reserve: North Rios Avenue trailhead (GPS: 33.00367145, -117.2724213), Holmwood Lane trailhead (GPS: 33.002166603, -117.26628637), or the Solana Hills Drive trailhead (GPS: 33.000303, -117.258322). The North Rios and Solana Hills Drive trailheads are the most popular.
Parking near the trailheads is along streets, as there is no formal parking lot here for the reserve.
The information in this guide is for informational purposes only. We use Gaia GPS for mobile devices and also bring high-quality printed topographic maps while in the backcountry, and recommend you do the same.
From either of the main trailheads near the street parking, it’s roughly a 3/4 mile hike to the entrance to Annie’s Canyon. The hike from the North Rios trailhead follows along the south side of the lagoon on a sandy trail that offers some shade from trees and bushes.
If you start at the other two trailheads, you’ll hike north to connect with the lagoon trail and then follow it to the entrance to the canyon.
After approaching Annie’s Canyon from either the west or the east, you’ll come to the canyon trailhead which is marked by a sign and wooden fencing that funnels you into the slot canyon. The trailhead is located about 1000 feet west of the I-5 expressway (GPS: 33.00572198, -117.26389127).
There are actually two routes to get to the top of the bluff overlooking the canyon. The primary section of the trail goes through through the slot canyon to the overlook. This is the more difficult portion and requires squeezing through the slot canyon, getting up high steps and climbing a steep ladder at the end.
This portion goes one way, from the low point through the canyon and up to the overlook. You then take a switchback trail down that parallels the canyon back down to the lagoon.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to hike through the slot canyon and would prefer a mellower trail, you can hike up the switchbacks to the overlook.
However, don’t hike down from the overlook into the slot canyon as you may encounter people coming up and there isn’t room to pass one another. The park service has posted signs stating that the trail is one way through the slot canyon.
At the top of the canyon on a clear day, you’ll take in terrific views of the canyon, lagoon and the Pacific Ocean in the distance to the west. Less scenic–and somewhat noisy–is the I-5 to the east, but the views to the west more than make up for it.
One last note about kids: Keep an eye and maybe a hand on them when you get to the top of the slot. The overlook area drops off steeply in many places and a fall could cause serious injury.
Annie’s Canyon History
The area where Annie’s Canyon Trail is located is managed by San Diego County’s Department of Parks and Recreation and was closed to visitors for many years due to vandalism of the delicate sandstone cliffs.
After being repaired and established as an official hiking trail, the area reopened in 2016 for public use. Visitors to the canyon are encouraged to remain on the trail and to tread lightly in these fragile canyons.