"The city in the country" is the official civic motto of Poway, a city of 50,000 northeast of San Diego. Poway's "country" is an extensive system of parks, preserves and greenbelts--a collection of greenery that cities many times its size would be proud to possess.
Poway also has an impressive trail network. Paths connect neighborhoods with city parks with surrounding wildlands. In all, Poway has 60 miles of trail and is in the process of constructing 20 more miles.
The trail system's hub is Lake Poway, a 60-acre reservoir with playgrounds and picnic areas. Boating and fishing are popular activities on the lake, while horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking are the favorite pastimes on shore.
Lake Poway Trail circles the lake; other trails lead off it into more remote regions of the recreation area. The well-constructed path is also a fitness trail complete with exercise stations, and a nature trail with numbered stops keyed to an interpretive brochure (available at the park entry station).
Hikers looking for a challenge can tackle the Mt. Woodson Trail, which ascends the steep slopes above Lake Poway. The rugged trail, 10 miles round trip, climbs through the high chaparral and serves up fine views of San Diego and the blue Pacific.
A much easier family outing, Green Valley Truck Trail (three miles round trip), visits Blue Sky Ecological Reserve. The reserve, managed by the California Department of Fish and Game, includes a seasonal creek and a lovely oak woodland. You can hike to the reserve from Lake Poway or from a trail head on the east side of Espola Road, just half a mile from the turnoff to the lake.
Lake Poway Trail can be a jumping-off place to all kinds of adventure, or simply enjoyed by itself. Note that the trail, with its hill climbs and steep switchbacks, will not be the easiest 2 1/2 miles you ever walked.
Directions to trail head: From Interstate 15 in Rancho Bernardo, exit on Rancho Bernardo Road and travel east.
After a bit more than three miles, the road bends south and continues as Espola Road. Half a mile after the bend, turn left on Lake Poway Road and continue to road's end at Lake Poway Recreation Area. Parking is free for Poway residents; other pay $4 on weekends, $3 weekdays.
The hike: Join the trail to the right of the marina and begin your counter-clockwise circuit of the lake. Blue ceanothus blossoms brighten the path in spring.
On the east side of the lake, you'll pass the signed junction with Mt. Woodson Trail. Lake Poway Trail heads north, leaving the lake shore and dropping into a steep canyon behind the lake's rock-fill dam.
Lake Poway Trail
WHERE: Lake Poway Recreation Area.
DISTANCE: 2 miles round trip, with 400-foot elevation gain; longer options possible.
TERRAIN: Boulder-strewn hills around lake; oak woodland.
HIGHLIGHTS: Inviting parks and preserves at the edge of fast-growing area.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Conctact the Lake Poway Recreation Area, P.O. Box 789, Poway, Calif. 92074 (619) 679-4397; Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, (619) 486-7238.