For a few months each year, on Saturdays and Sundays between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15, we open a stretch of trail in Ramona Grasslands County Preserve that is typically closed to the public due to sensitive habitat. Guests visiting the Old Survey Road 97 Trail must review educational materials and take a short survey, confirming they understand the “dos” and “don’ts” of this very unique wildlife habitat. Details are below.
The Old Survey Road 97 Trail sits on the northwest side of the Ramona Grasslands offering a 6-mile total out-and back route and some of the most dramatic landscapes in the region. Open hours and dates are limited; the trail is open 8 a.m. to sunset on Saturdays and Sundays between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15, unless otherwise noted. Click here to view the trail access and parking map.
Originally established in the late 1800s, the Old Survey Road 97 Trail has been used by generations of travelers, from missionaries and ranchers to military personnel moving between San Pasqual Valley and San Diego’s backcountry.
The existing 4-mile loop trail off Highland Valley Road and just east of Archie Moore Road (in the southwest corner of Ramona Grasslands County Preserve), showcasing sprawling grasslands and majestic oaks, remains open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset.
Ramona Grasslands County Preserve sits in the Santa Maria Valley between scenic coastal mesas and the rocky outcrops of the peninsula mountain ranges. It contains a significant section of Santa Maria Creek, supporting a mosaic of sensitive habitats including grasslands, wetlands, vernal pools, coastal sage scrub and oak woodlands, along with hundreds of unique plant and animal species.
There are 408 plant species on site and 16 of them are considered “special-status species” – most notably San Diego thornmint and spreading navarretia. The preserve also supports 23 butterfly species, 21 reptile species, six types of amphibians, 37 mammals, and over a hundred types of birds. If you’re lucky, scout a mountain lion, bobcat or long-tailed weasel. You might even come face-to-face with more common locals like coyotes, raccoons and skunks!
San Diego County is one of the only places in the United States that supports large coast, mountain and desert ecosystems. Because these ecosystems are so close together, and because animals travel between them, nature has created some interesting niches in evolution. That’s why nearly 40 protected animals can be found inside the preserve, like arroyo toad, Stephens’ kangaroo rat, burrowing owl, and golden eagle.
Golden eagles, one of the largest birds in North America, use the entire preserve for foraging. Their territory spans an average of 36 miles, which encompasses Ramona Grasslands County Preserve and surrounding areas.
Have you seen one? The wings of a golden eagle are broad like a red-tailed hawk, but longer. Their heads look small and their tails look long, from a distance. Adult golden eagles are dark brown with a golden sheen on the back of their head and neck, while young eagles have neatly defined white patches at the base of their tail and in the wings.
Golden eagles nest on cliff ledges or trees on steep slopes, hunting in grasslands, sage scrub, and chaparral environments. Prey species include rabbits, hares and rodents; however, they will also eat other small mammals, birds and reptiles.
Golden eagles are very sensitive to disturbances. For this reason, the Old Survey Road 97 Trail is only open two days a week for three months of the year.
Please join us in respecting and protecting this beautiful preserve. Through responsible recreation, we hope to get more people outside and active, enjoying parks and appreciating all that nature has to offer.
To access this area, you must watch a short video and take a quick test. When you pass the test, you will receive proof of completion, or a permit, which is good for one season.
Permits are required on the Ramona Grasslands Old Survey Road 97 Trail. If you do not have a copy of yours - either electronically or printed - you may be asked to take the test again, on site. There is no cost to obtain a permit.
Only 50 permit holders will be allowed on the trail per day. Access will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. The number of seasonal permits issued is unlimited, however, daily access is not. We recommend visiting the trail early in the day to enjoy cooler temperatures before the daily maximum is reached.
In addition to bringing proof of your permit, you will need to check in and out at the entrance gates via paper slips. All materials will be provided. If rangers are present, they may be able to check you in manually.
This trail is open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. until sunset unless otherwise posted and only during the approved time frame (Aug. 15 - Nov. 15).
Park users who violate these rules will be asked to leave and will lose access to the trail for a full season. We trust you will follow the rules, so we can continue to share this trail, along with the 'upside of outside' with all of our park patrons. Thank you for your understanding.