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Horsethief Canyon Trail

EASY 138 reviews
#14 of 131 trails in

Horsethief Canyon Trail is a 3.3 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Alpine, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

3.3 miles
498 feet
Out & Back

dog friendly

kid friendly


nature trips

trail running


bird watching



wild flowers


This is a short hike down to a small swimming hole surrounded by rocks. There is some shade on the trail, but not much. The hike starts from a parking lot, down a dirt road and then you make a right onto the trail that takes you down about 400 ft to the water. Be sure to bring water for the hike out, as there is little shade and it's all up. As soon as you feel like you've had enough, you're already at the top and it's a flat walk back to the car.

1 month ago

oh yeah we found small pools of water knee high. but it's up river through a rough climb. and a 1/2 inch layer of ice on top of the water. freeeezing cooooold....

1 month ago

it's the second time I hike on this trail. it's beautiful and a great place to find peace. just pace yourself especially if you have little ones, my kid struggles on the last climb getting back to the car. I'll be honest, I don't look forward to it, but it's always in the back of my head when I plan to go. but I love a good challenge, if you do too, enjoy....

1 month ago

Great little hike with the dogs- unfortunately, there is still no water as of 12.30.18

2 months ago

Fun hike, no water as of 12/09/18 even with the rain earlier in the week.

3 months ago

It would be better if you allowed bikes.

5 months ago

This was a great short hike.

7 months ago

The water at the end of the trail was all dried up which as big bummer. Also- while the trail is easy down along the river, I would say it is more moderate to difficult, especially with young children, because it’s straight down and straight back up out of the valley.

8 months ago

We were very disappointed that there wasn’t any water in the canyon. The hike, albeit short, was very steep for about half a mile and our older Labrador had a tough time getting back up. Only ran into a couple other people all afternoon. If there were water, this hike would be great!

8 months ago

I’d definitely come back, but after some rain. There was almost no water at the end but the rocks were cool. It was a pretty hike and you really feel away from it all. There was no one else on the trail that day which was cool-so quiet, just me and some birds and a snake

9 months ago

This trail was okay. Not "must do again," but nice enough. I did this trail alone with my dog on a Friday afternoon and there was NOT A SINGLE OTHER SOUL AROUND. Normally I'm happy to find less trafficked trails, but this was creepy since I was by myself!

10 months ago

Awesome! Just beware...where there is water, there be a-holes

10 months ago

Fun hike!!! Enjoy!!!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Great hike for the kids, water features are always a nice way to take a break halfway through. especially in San Diego where water features are almost nonexistent. Its a pretty gradual descent down into the canyon which flattens out as you get closer to the Pine Valley Creek. We went in the afternoon around 3, which was perfect. Hopefully we get some more rain this year, because I'm planning on a springtime return here. I could see how it could be scorching in this area around summer time, so bring lots of water. Should really call it the Espinosa Trail through Horsethief Canyon.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Make sure you don't miss the sign to go down hill to the trail. coming back up was a killer.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Easy to moderate overall with a decent incline to finish the hike. Not much tree cover, but trail is pretty well maintained and easy to follow. Just stick to the signs directing you towards “Espinosa Trail” or “The Secret Trail” (may have been an old name for this trail).

Monday, October 16, 2017

There are two trails. Both go through the biggest gate from the parking lot then take your first right after a quarter mile where the sign says "trail". After the descent into the canyon there is a T bone intersection. Left is overgrown and will create a 3 mile loop that meets up with the fire road. Right is a 5 mile out and back to some point and better groomed. Poison oak is abundant.

I personally prefer just driving Lyons valley road than this trail but glad to experience it.

For easiest day just do the fire road.

Friday, October 13, 2017

I’ve done this hike probably a dozen times. There is NO WATER from summer through fall. This is San Diego! Lol.

What I don’t love:
-We won’t hike here June-Oct because it’s just too hot and there is no water in the river
-The climb back out of the canyon is intense. I have a love-hate relationship with it.
-It’s hotter down on the canyon floor and there isn’t a lot of breeze until you get to the river bed

What I love about this trail:
-It’s largely flat and there is some shade
-It’s short and quick- about 2 hrs for us there and back
-My dog loves it :)
-Busy enough that you won’t worry about mountain lions, but no so crowded as to be annoying.
-When there is water in the river (usually Jan-June) it’s SO great.
-When there is no water, it’s fun to climb on the rocks
-There are 2 adjoining trails from near the river: Secret Canyon Trail (cross the river and continue up the mountain- eventually takes you to the I-8) and another that I don’t know the name of but it picks up before you reach the river and follows the river south for a while before turning W/NW and returning you to the parking lot. It’s not marked or very well traveled down in the river valley so it can be easy to lose it, but it adds about an hour to the hike (if you’re looking for something a little longer) and it’s gentle climbing, as opposed to that brutal hike back up the canyon to the trailhead when you do the there-and-back.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

It was tough with a 10month old strapped to my back on the way back up but the stroll down was easy and enjoyable. Take plenty of water.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Went today. There's no water at the end which is understandable. The entire way out was completely full of bees and ticks. Dog had two on her and we had some as well. Not a fun hike back up either

Monday, July 10, 2017

Fun little trail with swimming at the end.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Fantasic pool at the end of the trail. Well worth the trip

trail running
Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It wasn't easy but lots of fun. Bring water if you hit it up during the summer it gets hot

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Fun hike. Went With my 1 year old and we have a nice little swim. Good water level and water was not cold.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Fun hike! Started out on a fire trail then onto the real trail. Easy path defending into the valley. LOTS of poison oak, watch out! Rattle snakes were seen too. Once we were at the creek to cross it was about 10 min to the pool. Pool was fun and a perfect temperature. Early morning or afternoon are best times to hike as it does get brutally hot (June).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Absolutely a great hike!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Nice easy hike with a beautiful reward at the end.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Nice easy hike with a beautiful reward at the end.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Nice easy hike with a beautiful reward at the end.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A fantastic hike and the end is so relaxing. Great day!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The water hole at the end is a beautiful oasis!!! Cant wait to go back.

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