A couple weeks ago, I found myself in Poway for an assignment and figured, as I usually do when I’m in some not-very-familiar part of the county, that I could get out for a run in some new scenery.
After figuring out how much time I would have and some light Googling, I settled on a trail through the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve to the Lake Ramona Dam.
The trail to the dam can be accessed from either the (hugely popular) Lake Poway Rec Area, or from a staging area off Espola Road, which is the starting point I chose. From this point, by my Garmin, it was about 4.8 miles round-trip.
Right away, though, I started down the wrong trail (one that basically lead to nowhere). If you park in the lot off Espola, head south and back towards the road to find the right trailhead.
The trail starts nicely through a grove of oak trees. It’s mostly flat, wide, and there’s plenty of shade. Very quickly, you’ll see a turn-off to the left. As you head towards the dam, you can pretty much assume that staying to the left is always a good idea.
The turn-off takes you down the “Oak Grove and Creekside Trail,” which is single-track, even more shaded, and feels part “enchanted forest” and “watch out for the hobo who may or may not be chilling around the next bend.”
You’ll rejoin the main trail after a quarter-mile or so.
And soon come to a more major turn-off. If you go right here, you’ll find yourself at Lake Poway.
(When I completed this run and started writing this post, I was sure I’d never been on this trail before. The course map of the Cinco de Mayo Trail Run, as well as my Garmin data archive, tell me otherwise. Apparently I ran most of this trail in 2013. Huh. All I can say is this time, I ran late in the afternoon, not first thing in the morning, and I think I’ve blocked most of that race from my mind because the course is so mean. You spend an entire mile in the middle of the race going straight up and then there’s a hill literally at the very end before the finish line. I don’t think I could find another race where my pace dropped so dramatically right before finishing.)
Anyway, stay to the left again (also, props to the City of Poway for placing trash cans on the trail).
The oak grove ends and you go left…again. Then you start going up.
And up. And up. And up. Pretty much non-stop up for about a full mile.
The views are fantastic, though. You can look back and see Lake Poway as you climb, and try to spot people posing for Instagram pictures on Potato Chip Rock on Mt. Woodson (in the photo above, it’s the left-most crest on the far-off mountain. You can kind of see the communication towers, sort of).
Eventually the dirt road ends and you hit pavement. You’re almost there!
You’ve just got to go up this particularly cruel, switchback-like incline along the side of the dam. Good luck!
But then you get to see Lake Ramona when you finally reach the top, which is pretty beautiful.
Officially, you’ve been on the Green Valley Truck Trail this whole time, which continues along the top of the dam and around the northeast side of the lake. It’s probably a really nice extension of this run if you don’t have to get back to your car before the staging area gates close and your legs aren’t cursing you out.
I did get to see the beginnings of a fantastic sunset on the way down. Also, an animal that might have been either a small deer or a coyote. It was a little ways ahead of me on the trail and must have run off into the brush before I could catch up or getting a better (identifying) look. From then on, I was half-convinced a pack of coyotes was stalking me and booked it best I could.
Honestly? This run was a beast. I think it felt a lot harder than it really was because almost from the start, my legs just felt heavy and dead. I’m not sure if it was a build-up of fatigue or dehydration or what, but the good news is, I’m eager to check this trail out again, maybe on a weekend morning when I’m feeling fresher and have more time. While the beginning and end is plenty shaded, there isn’t any shade on the way up to and back from the dam, but I’d still feel comfortable bringing Onyx — with water for her, and on a cooler day/early morning/late afternoon.
Official info on Lake Ramona Dam:
Blue Sky Ecological Preserve from the City of Poway