Peaceful woodlands a draw for many at the Oakoasis Open Space Preserve

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If you’re looking for a good hike for the early morning or late afternoon in the Lakeside area where you will be rewarded with refreshing shade and peaceful woodlands along the way, Oakoasis Open Space Preserve is the trail for you. Located off Wildcat Canyon Road, the preserve encompasses 397 acres of chaparral and oak woodlands. Part of the preserve trail system is included in the 110-mile Trans-County Trail being developed between Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

If you’re looking for a good hike for the early morning or late afternoon in the Lakeside area where you will be rewarded with refreshing shade and peaceful woodlands along the way, Oakoasis Open Space Preserve is the trail for you. Located off Wildcat Canyon Road, the preserve encompasses 397 acres of chaparral and oak woodlands. Part of the preserve trail system is included in the 110-mile Trans-County Trail being developed between Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The Margaret Minshall family gifted the preserve to San Diego County in the 1980s. Remains of the cabin in which Minshell had lived during the 1940 was burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire. Today just a few logs and bits and pieces remain of the cabin.

Yet the miracle of regrowth since the fire makes this preserve live up to its name. Wild daisies and San Diego sunflowers adorn the boulder-studded hills. On the scrub oak trees, look for round apple-like formations on the tree. These are oak galls, formed by the larvae of oak gall wasps. Yellow and white cloudless Sulphur butterflies fly among the oaks and tiny wildflowers in the dirt.

The trail is a loop of 3.4 miles, with an elevation gain and loss of 700 feet.  After making all right turns from the parking lot along the first part of the trail, when you arrive at a T-intersection of the trail, turn left to go through an oak grove.  This is where the vegetation becomes lush, almost Hobbit-like with the drapery of coast live oak trees’ branches overhead and tall grasses moving in the breeze. A stream runs through the ravine, and depending on whether it has rained recently, the trail can be muddy. Birds dart among the trees, dragonflies flit above the stream.

Green is the one adjective to describe this part of the trail. Everything grows here, from bush monkeyflower to horehound to plenty of poison oak. Be on the lookout for vine-like branches of scalloped leaves of three, a trademark of this rash-causing plant. In the oak grove, poison oak wraps around tree trunks and crawls across entire boulders.

From the oak woodlands, continue to go up and enjoy the view of San Vicente Reservoir rimmed by bright yellow mustard plants. If small children are with you, this is a good place to turn back because around this hill continues the hottest, driest and most difficult part of the trail. The steepest part goes up and over a 1,480 foot-saddle, a slippery and rocky path almost straight up.

For those who do go on, be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. You might also find some other wildlife, such as the San Diego Horned Lizard perfectly camouflaged on a rock. Throughout the rest of April and early May, you can count on big beautiful bushes of mountain lilac dotting the hillside.

Once you make it up to the top of the saddle, the trail levels out for a bit, then descends slowly again to a meadow. Here you will find painted lady and monarch butterflies dancing in the sunlight. 

The path becomes very narrow along the stream and towards the woodlands. Walk with a big stick to guard against rattlesnakes that may be hiding in the grass. Along this part of the trail are waist-high wildflowers and grasses. Every kind of bird from finches to ravens find their oasis here, too, calling to each other in the grasses and tall trees. It’s a beautiful place to stop and admire the play of light and shadow in the dense woodland.

Ascending gently from this part of the woodlands, you will arrive to the hotter, drier part of the trail where you first started. The Oakoasis trail is a memorable one, particularly this year after all the rain. But you will want to take plenty of water, wear good hiking shoes or boots and long pants, a hat and sunscreen to make it a safe and enjoyable trek. Count on two hours to make the loop.

For more information, go to www.sdparks.org/content/sdparks/en/park-pages/Oakoasis.html.