This photo needs editing.
Difficulty III-IV
Length 6.6 Miles
Gauge N/A
Flow Range
Reach Info Last Updated 02/15/2011 6:39 pm

River Description

A challenging run for the truly committed. At most levels, numerous areas of impenetrable snags will be encountered.
Water quality is generally horrendous due to being downstream of the city of Escondido and a large industrial chicken and cow farm which will contribute massive amounts of fecal material whenever it rains enough to make this river flow at boatable levels. Local environmental groups Escondido Creek Conservancy and Carlsbad Watershed Network are working to restore the creek, and bring back good water quality.

Posted to RBP, 2/23/1998

Difficulty: Class III-IV (rapids), Class V (trees)
Portages: Count on at least one, probably more, depending on your tolerance for strainers. Expect strainers to be different each occasion you may do this run.

Mile-by-mile gradient from Elfin Forest Preserve)       110 60 90 95 75 40 22 (last half-mile)

Drainage area: ~40 sq. miles
Elevation: ~540 (put-in), ~100 ft (take-out)

To get to the take-out from I-5: Take Manchester Rd to Rancho Santa Fe Rd. Continue 1 mile past the Harvest Ranch Market at the Encinitas Rd intersection. Make a right down Camino Del Norte Rd to the low-water creek crossing (this crossing will probably be closed when the creek is flowing).

To get to the put-in (from the take-out): Continue on Rancho Santa Fe Rd, make a right just before San Marcos Creek at Questhaven Rd. Make another right in about 1 mile at an unmarked road (this is Elfin Forest Rd), and continue to the creek (where the road will turn sharply left (NW) and become Harmony Grove Rd). Proceed to Elfin Forest Preserve where you can put-in.

To get to the put-in from I-15: Exit west at Valley Parkway, make a right at 9th, this then turns left at Hale. Make a right on Symphony, where it crosses the creek, and then another right onto Harmony Grove Rd. Country Club Dr is passed in a mile, and the Elfin Forest preserve is another mile or so.

General Info:
Escondido Creek lies between the San Luis Rey River (to the north) and the San Dieguito River (to the South). It drains a very small area of Southern California, a good part of it within the city of Escondido (which is 25 miles north of San Diego and about 15 miles inland from the ocean). The headwaters of the creek start up around ~2500 ft just northeast of the city, being impounded at Lake Wohlford before it reaches the city. A tributary of the creek is impounded at Dixon Lake. Water from Lake Henshaw on the San Luis Rey River is diverted at the top of the San Luis Rey Gorge into a canal that puts the water into one of these lakes for the city to drink. Because much of the flow into the lower creek is urban runoff, it tends to come up and go down with the rains very quickly, but also flows better with early season storms moreso than natural runoff streams. The water quality is one of the main detractions of the run, along with the strainers. The take-out is by the city of Encinitas, in the Olivehain area which is perhaps best-known for the mass-suicide committed by the Heaven's Gate Cult members.

Within the city of Escondido, the creek is a low-gradient concrete-lined ditch that empties into the natural streambed at Symphony Rd just east of Valley Parkway. (This area is well posted as off-limits by the city of Escondido.) It stays flat for about a mile, going through eucalyptus groves before entering a canyon where the constricted creekbed makes the water deeper and faster with rapids spotted here and there. San Elijo Canyon is where Escondido Creek cuts through the coastal mountains on its way to the San Elijo Lagoon at the ocean. The steep canyon is a marvelous little place to be when the waterÂs flowing - isolated, lush with vegetation, and great rapids within. The first two miles below Symphony Rd are not that exciting, and include at least two portages: one over a road (Country Club Dr), another 1/3 mile downstream at a fallen tree, and perhaps more over three driveways that cross the creek. When Winston and I did our run Feb 22 (1998), we in-boat portaged one of the driveways and ran the other two. One that we ran made a 5 ft vertical drop on the right which was a little exciting.

"Recommended Run" Detail:
I suggest skipping the above mentioned section and putting in where the fun stuff really starts: at the upstream part of the Elfin Forest Preserve, located about 1-2 miles below the road crossing. Here (in the upstream part of the preserve) they have cut down most of the trees by the creek, and it flows open and unobstructed through some class II-III rapids before getting more forested at the lower reaches of the preserve.  "Rock's Rockpile" is a class III rapid within the preserve in the middle of the viewing and parking area, with a branch to avoid on the right midway down.

A mile or so below the preserve the creek flows away from the road into an isolated part of San Elijo Canyon, away from any ranches or houses. The last road crossing the creek before entering the isolated stretch has two tunnels that let the creek flow through. After inspection, both Winston and I ran these long tunnels, with weird echos within and a 3 ft plunge at the end. The middle couple miles of the isolated stretch contain a narrow granite gorge where the creek drops 100 fpm. The smaller San Marcos Cr just to the north has a similar gorge, but this creek is dammed making Lake San Marcos, so the brush in there probably be much worse than on Escondido Cr. We had at least a dozen spots where trees made precise maneuvering essential to avert getting stuck.

In general the creek is pool/drop, mainly class II-III with maybe 3-4 class IVs in there. "Reminiscence of the Deep" is about 1-2 miles downstream from the tunnels at a class IV where the left makes a clean (though technical) 5 ft vertical, while the right side is a chute with 2-3 smaller drops. "Swirling Delight" is another class IV in the gorge that starts with a long tumble into a small pool before a 4 ft plunge with a big pillow on the right, and swirling eddy on the left at the base. It was best to run this into the pillow, which then would turn you and shoot you out with the current to the left. Winston had another idea and tried punching into the eddy-current. He nearly tipped and almost got sucked back into the drop!! We shore-scouted a total of about 6 times.

The last mile or two of the canyon has a larger quantity of brush than the other parts, and this is where we did one portage around a particularly obstructed area. If you don't like maneuvering around and through branches and the like, you might have up to a dozen portages on this run. We generally didn't have problems, though I got slightly hung up at one spot for a minute, and Winston rolled because of one.

When the canyon opens up, it is FLAT water (with only a little current) through forests. Not dangerous at all -- almost like paddling in a swamp. This continues past the Camino Del Norte road crossing all the way to Encinitas Blvd where we took out - too much of it. I suggest taking out ASAP after the canyon where a road comes adjacent to the creek (from Camino Del Norte you can drive a little further upstream on Quebrada Rd and then get to Olivehain Farms Rd). This will make the entire run about 7 miles or so.

Winston and I had about 200-300 cfs, and we spent 4 hrs on the creek from Country Club Dr to Encinitas Blvd. A lot of that time was paddling through the swamp. (Limiting your run to the recommended put-in and take-out should reduce this time accordingly.) This run would be wonderful without so many trees to avoid, and if the water quality were pristine. As it is, it's still definitely worth doing, especially if you live in the area.

My first experience on Escondido Creek (at 2000+ cfs) was very unpleasant and I learned a good lesson from it: Don't attempt small congested creeks at flood-stage!! It was a bad judgement call and I was pretty stupid. I won't be boating alone for at least another year because of this incident. I also have a court appearance date for trespassing on city property. To get an idea of how high the water was, at the Symphony Rd bridge look on the upstream side within the concrete lined channel. On river right, two or three tunnels empty into the creek. When I put-in here, the creek was about 5 inches above the bottom of these tunnels (i.e. 6 ft? high)!!!

Rocky Contos,       2/23/1998

Other Information Sources: 
Escondido Creek Conservancy
Reveal the Creek: restoration plans for Escondido Creek
San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy
Carlsbad Watershed Network
Escondido Creek Watershed Information .pdf

Rapid Descriptions


No Gage

Gage Descriptions

The flow should be entirely below Country Club Dr, maybe 6 inches below its lowest spot. Another area to get a feel of the creek is at the preserve, where you can look at the creek and rapids and judge if you think it i’s boatable.

(Estimated flow) Minimum: 100 Optimum: 300

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports




Paul Martzen


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1199210 02/15/11 Paul Martzen added links
1193076 10/27/04 n/a n/a