Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve covers 1,500 acres of protected land with miles of trails, offering amazing hiking opportunities. Stunning viewpoints of San Diego’s coast will greet you as you admire the Torrey Pine, which is the rarest pine tree in North America.
In this article, I’ll share some must-know tips to help you make the most of the hiking trails at Torrey Pines.
Accessibility Note: There are a few wheelchair accessible hiking trails at Torrey Pines. You’ll find details about these hikes in tip #13.
Did you know?
Reserves have stricter rules than parks because they protect endangered species and/or unique geographical formations. Reserves take their conservation role seriously and, therefore, fines are high for policy violations.
Torrey Pines Hiking Map
Before we get started on hiking tips, take a peek at the Torrey Pines map below to get oriented with the trail routes.
Tip #1: Parking
There are three paid parking lots at Torrey Pines—South Beach, at the top of the mesa near the Lodge, and North Beach. There’s also free parking, which we’ll touch on shortly.
For the South Beach and mesa parking lots, you can pay in person or by kiosk, and your ticket is valid for either of these two areas.
The North Beach parking lot needs to be paid separately and has its own fee scale, starting at a slightly lower rate.
The price for parking within Torrey Pines ranges from $10 – $25 per vehicle, based on demand. This fee is waived for California State Parks Vehicle Day Use Pass holders, but passes from other state parks and camping receipts aren’t accepted.
Summer and weekends are the busiest time of year at Torrey Pines. If you’re traveling then, aim to arrive before 10:00 am to have a better chance of snagging a spot. Crowds tend to die down mid-afternoon, so going later in the day is a great option too.
The south parking lots are popular; a flashing light at the kiosk will let you know if all the parking spaces are filled up.
You may be wondering: Is there free parking at Torrey Pines?
Yes, there is!
There is free parking at Torrey Pines State Beach. Parking spots fill up quickly, but there’s enough space to pull off on the side of the road and wait for a spot to open up without interfering with traffic.
You can access the hiking trails from the free parking lot at Torrey Pines State Beach.
The first option is to walk along the beach, accessing the bluffs via a staircase. The second option is walking up the road to the top of the reserve.
You can also park your motorcycle in these areas should you be taking a motorcycle trip along Highway 5 with your best dog or human friend.
Tip #2: Hours of Operation
Torrey Pines is open every day of the year, including holidays. It opens at 7:15 am, regardless of what time the sun rises.
Closing time at Torrey Pines fluctuates with sunset. The range is 5:00 pm (in the winter) and 8:00 pm (in the summer).
The closing time is updated daily on a sign at the South Beach entrance.
While I didn’t personally have this experience, I’ve heard some people say that the entrance gates to Torrey Pines occasionally open earlier than the stated 7:15 am.
So if you’ll be traveling during the high season and are planning on arriving at 7:15 am anyway, you may want to aim to arrive a little extra early.
Tip #3: Pick Your Torrey Pines Trails
Sure, you can show up to Torrey Pines and wing your hike. But given the number of hiking trails available, it’s best to prep in advance with the trail(s) you wish to hike.
There are six hiking trails directly within the Torrey Pines Reserve. Let’s take a look at them.
6 Hiking Trails in Torrey Pines
- Guy Fleming Trail: 2/3-mile hike in the northern region of the reserve. It’s a pretty easy hike with two beautiful lookout points. It also has more flora diversity than any other hike in the reserve.
- Parry Grove Trail: 1/2-mile hike with more than 100 steps. Between bark beetles and drought, the Torrey pine trees in this area have taken a beating, but recovery is underway.
- High Point Trail: Don’t let the shortness of this hike fool you—all 300 feet of it are on a steep incline with steps. It’s worth it, though. From the top, you’ll get views of the lagoon, reserve, and inland areas.
- Razor Point Trail: 2/3-mile hike. This unique hiking trail will take you through a variety of shrubbery and Torrey Pines, as well as a stunning sandstone gorge. It leads to the beautiful Yucca Point, which is also accessible from Beach Trail.
- Beach Trail: This 3/4-mile trail takes you along the rim of the Upper Reserve and then 300 feet to the beach via a steep staircase. Beach Trail is one of the most popular hiking paths at Torrey Pines, but beach access is dependent on the tide.
- Broken Hill Trail: This is the longest continuous trail in Torrey Pines. There are two ways to hike it—South Fork (1.3 miles) or North Fork (1.4 miles). In either case, Broken Hill Trail connects with Beach Trail.
In addition to these trails, there are three wheelchair accessible hiking paths. We’ll talk about them in tip #12.
Tip #4: Hike the Torrey Pines Reserve Extension
In addition to the six hikes listed above, there are four other hiking trails in the Torrey Pines Reserve Extension.
4 Hiking Trails in Torrey Pines Reserve Extension
- Mar Scenic Trail: 1/2-mile trail that passes along a creek (water may or may not be in it, depending on the season).
- Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Trail: 1/2-mile trail with marsh and ocean views.
- Margaret Fleming Nature Trail: 3/4-mile path where you can admire the coastal sage scrub that runs along it.
- Red Ridge Loop Trail: 1/3-mile hike with stunning geologic formations. You’ll also get views of the lagoon and main reserve.
As you now know, none of the hiking trails at Torrey Pines are long. However, the advantage of this is you can mix and match the different paths, tailoring the hiking length to your preference.
Tip #5: Watch the tides
If you want to hike Beach Trail, check the tide schedule before heading to Torrey Pines.
High tide comes right up to the cliff, leaving nothing but slippery rocks to climb over as waves crash around you.
Not only is high tide dangerous along Beach Trail because of the waves, but it also requires walking beside the cliff. Don’t do this; the cliffs are unstable. Falling dirt and rocks have killed people in the past.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve recommends walking along this portion of the beach a minimum of two, but preferably three, hours before and after high tide.
By doing so, there’ll be a wide enough stretch of sandy beach to keep you safely away from the waves and cliffs.
Tip #6: Plan your restroom breaks
There aren’t any restrooms on the hiking trails at Torrey Pines, nor are there any at the Visitor Center.
However, there are restrooms at the beach parking lots and portable toilets on the west side of the upper reserve.
Shrubbery is low and sparse on the trails, making it a bad—not to mention illegal—place to take a squat. So, take a look at the map at the beginning of this post, memorize the bathroom locations, and cross your legs until you find them.
Tip #7: Don’t stray off the trails
Conservation is at the forefront of Torrey Pines’ mission.
Many of the plants growing in the reserve are endangered or easily damaged. They’re also important because they prevent cliff erosion, which is something that can quickly be undone by your footprints.
There are steep fines for wandering off the trails.
How steep is steep?
You read that right! Help the environment and your wallet; stay on the trail, folks.
Tip #8: Be on the lookout for whales
If you’ll be hiking in Torrey Pines from December through April, be on the lookout for whales.
Where’s the best place for whale sightseeing in Torrey Pines, you wonder?
Anywhere there’s a coastline, really. But Razor Point and Yucca Point are extra good places for whale watching because of their proximity to the water.
If you’re traveling outside of whale season, still keep your eyes on the ocean. You may see a pod of dolphins!
Tip #9: Look for Fossils
Of all the tips I’m sharing here, this is one of my favorites—keep an eye out for fossils at Torrey Pines.
Most commonly, the fossils are in the form of logs that can best be seen on the sides of cliffs. This is what you’re looking for:
You can also find fossil seashells and worm tubes at Torrey Pines. These are most common at Bay Point Formation on the Beach Trail route.
Tip #10: Prepare for the sun
Did you know that 71% of the year is sunny in San Diego?
Prepare for hiking Torrey Pines’ trails with sunscreen and sunglasses. Only your feet will catch a glimpse of shade from time to time, thanks to low-lying shrubs.
But for the most part, there isn’t shade on the hiking paths at Torrey Pines.
Tip #11: Rules
Remember how we talked about the difference between parks and reserves at the beginning of this post?
Well, the time has come for us to explore the rules at Torrey Pines. Below are the highlights:
- Only water can be taken into the reserve. The exception to this is the beach, where food and other beverages are allowed.
- Carry in, carry out policy. There aren’t any garbage cans after the beach parking lot.
- No dogs, not even on leashes.
- No smoking.
- No drones.
- Large groups need a permit to enter.
Tip #12: Dress Accordingly
The hiking trails at Torrey Pines are fit for sneakers, although you’ll likely encounter people going at it in flip-flops. Hiking boots would be a bit overkill, in my opinion.
Since it gets so hot on the trails when the sun is out, wearing breathable hiking shorts is ideal. If you’re in the market for new hiking gear, I recommend giving KÜHL a try.
KÜHL offers a great selection of lightweight hiking shorts, so you won’t feel weighed down when climbing up the cliffs in Torrey Pines.
If you’re like me, you’ll have a field day filling its deep pockets with snacks and other hiking essentials. I even keep my iPhone in my Cabo hiking shorts without thinking twice about it slipping out on the trail.
For the sake of full disclosure, KÜHL gifted me a couple of pairs of hiking shorts. But I’m genuinely a fan of their products. They’re durable to withstand a long hike while being stylish enough so you can head to a sit-down restaurant without looking like you spent a day in the woods.
Needless to say, these are my new go-to shorts for summer hikes.
And since Torrey Pines is usually windy enough to keep the mosquitos away, you shouldn’t need to use insect repellent on your exposed skin.
Tip #13: Wheelchair accessibility
There are three wheelchair accessible hiking trails at Torrey Pines that offer views of the bluffs, marshland, and ocean. Let’s take a look at them.
South Broken Hill Trail: At just under one mile, this accessible trail will take you along a historical road near the Torrey Pines golf course. You’ll get to see a lot of vegetation and have a great view of Broken Hill.
West Parking Lot Overlook Trail: A 0.14 mile-trail offering views of the bluffs and ocean. The hike starts off with a short incline and then levels off. There are accessible restrooms in the west parking lot.
Discovery Trail: A 0.13-mile trail with three viewpoints over the coastal marshland and ocean.
The wheelchair accessible trails at Torrey Pines are dirt. They have some bumps but are mostly flat.
As you’ll see on the map at the top of this post, there are two accessible restrooms at Torrey Pines. And, of course, there are accessible spaces in the parking lots.
More information about wheelchair accessibility at Torrey Pines can be found on their accessible information page.
Since you’ll be spending time in San Diego, don’t miss our guide on 18 amazing wheelchair accessible things to do in San Diego.
Q & A about Hiking the Torrey Pines Trails
I hope by now you’re excited about all the hiking trail possibilities at Torrey Pines. Now, let’s go over some common questions.
Do you have to pay to hike Torrey Pines?
It’s free to hike the trails at Torrey Pines. That being said, parking can cost up to $25, depending on demand.
How long does it take to hike Torrey Pines?
It depends. Assuming it takes 20 minutes to hike one mile, you can see based on the hiking distances that many hikes at Torrey Pines take under 20 minutes…assuming, of course, that you don’t stop to gawk at the scenery along the way!
In reality, you should allow a minimum of two hours to explore Torrey Pines. You could spend half a day there or longer, though, especially if you plan on beaching it.
Can you hike Torrey Pines at night?
No, you cannot hike Torrey Pines at night. The gates close at a designated closing time which changes throughout the year (between 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm). All visitors must leave Torrey Pines by closing time.
Is camping permitted at Torrey Pines?
No, camping is not allowed at Torrey Pines.
Is Torrey Pines safe?
Torrey Pines is very safe. The trails are open, and most of the time, there are other people on them. While safety can never be guaranteed anywhere and one should always practice safety precautions, as a solo female traveler, I have no hesitation hiking the Torrey Pines trails alone.
As mentioned earlier, parts of the cliff are unstable, so in order to maximize safety, stay on the trail.
Is it possible to see seals and sea lions at Torrey Pines?
It’s unlikely that you’ll see seals and sea lions at Torrey Pines. However, you may get lucky and spot some on their way to more common sea lion and seal hot spots.
For insider tips on spotting San Diego’s adorable marine mammal inhabitants, check out our post on Sea Lions & Seals in San Diego.
Ready to hike Torrey Pines?
With its stunning ocean views, fossils, and coastal shrubbery, hiking the trails at Torrey Pines will leave you mesmerized.
Do you have questions about hiking the trails at Torrey Pines? Leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to help. I’d also love to hear about your own experience and tips for hiking at the reserve.
P.S.—Are you concerned about safety in San Diego? If so, check out our guide, Is San Diego Safe?
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.