Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Broken Hill (San Diego)

Broken Hill
2.5 miles round trip, 120 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve parking fee required

The badlands at Broken Hill are one of the most spectacular seaside settings at California's Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve outside San Diego. A set of heavily eroded cliffs rise above the California chaparral here, providing pretty views down to La Jolla and sweeping views north along the Southern California coast. This is an easy hike that just about anyone can do- in fact, the first mile of the hike up to the first viewpoint of Broken Hill are ADA accessible. Just be sure to come early in the day, as both this hike and Torrey Pines as a park are very popular with San Diego residents.

I hiked Broken Hill with my mom during a February trip to San Diego to see the super bloom at Anza Borrego State Park. We hiked Broken Hill the morning after arriving in San Diego, driving north from the city on I-5 to exit 33B for Carmel Valley Road; we turned left on Carmel Valley Road and followed it to its junction with Camino del Mar. We turned left here again and followed the ocean past Torrey Pines State Beach to the turnoff on the right for Torrey Pines State Reserve. We followed this road up a bluff to the parking lot at the visitor center; this lot fills up on weekends to come early.

The trail to Broken Hill continues on the paved road, which is closed to vehicle traffic beyond the visitor center. We followed the road south for just over half a mile. The road was out in the open, and gave good views to the east of Black Mountain rising near Rancho Penasquitos and the Peninsular Ranges beyond. Recent snowstorms had dumped a few feet of snow on the mountains near Julian, creating a unique scene of snowy peaks rising above Southern California's chaparral and suburbia.

This road was the former route of the highway connecting San Diego to Los Angeles; the highway was eventually rerouted as the curves on the stretch between the visitor center and the beach caused frequent accidents.

There was minimal elevation along this road as we headed south: in fact, this hike is ADA accessible up to the first view of Broken Hill on the South Fork Trail. The road passed the North Fork Trail, which was closed at the time of my visit for trail work but will provide an alternative route to Broken Hill when it reopens. About a half mile from the visitor center, we came to the South Fork Trail on the right side of the road. We took this wide, flat trail, which started out yards away from the Torrey Pines Golf Course, a public golf course that hosted the 2008 US Open. The trail headed west through the chaparral with occasional glimpses south to the golf course until it arrived at a viewpoint of Broken Hill about a half mile from the South Fork Trailhead and a mile from the visitor center. Here, the badlands of Broken Hill punctuated the chaparral slopes with two Torrey Pines, the park's signature tree, growing on the side of the hill. Behind were the blue waters of the Pacific.
Broken Hill from the South Fork Trail
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve was established on this bluff above the Pacific not only to protect this spectacular coastline, but more importantly to preserve one of the two remaining habitats of the Torrey Pine, a tree which only grows here and on Santa Rosa Island in the California Channel Islands. The Torrey Pine relies on coastal fog to survive in this otherwise arid environment.
The Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines
A little bit past the first overlook, I came to a trail junction: the right fork led towards the North Fork Trail and the Broken Hill Trail (which leads not to Broken Hill, but down to the beach), while the left fork led to the Broken Hill overlook. I followed the left fork, which continued just a tenth of a mile to reach the cliffs at Broken Hill. While the early parts of the trail were perfectly maintained, this last stretch of trail to the cliffs was eroded in places. As I arrived at the first cliffs, views opened up to the golf course across a small ravine and the town of La Jolla along the coast to the south.
La Jolla from the cliffs at Broken Hill
The trail ended at an eroded point of land overlooking Broken Hill and the surrounding eroded ridges. A number of Torrey Pines grew on the hill itself and on the ocean-facing side of the badlands. The deeply-cut ridges were especially pretty in early morning lighting that accentuated the shadows in every little gully.
Badlands at Broken Hill
Standing at the end of the trail, we had fabulous views up and down the Southern California coast. While the southerly view ended at nearby La Jolla, the view to the north encompassed the coastline stretching towards Orange County, with Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains rising high above the sea with its winter snow cap. The high smoke stack of a power plant in Carlsbad was visible along the coast. I could also see down to nearby Yucca Point, which is visited by another hike in this park.
Southern California coastline with snowcapped Santiago Peak
Turning around and heading back, we found some impressive views to the north of high, far off ridges coated in snow: I'm pretty sure we could see all the way to Mount San Jacinto, the highest peak of the Peninsular Ranges and one of the most prominent peaks in the country.
View to San Jacinto Peak, far away and crowned with snow
This was an easy hike to a particularly lovely view of the Torrey Pines coast. It's an excellent way to experience some beautiful and comparatively wild coastal scenery within the San Diego metropolitan area.

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