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Accessible Trails in Southern California
By: Sara Toth Stub | Nov 8 2017

A new hiking trail that opened this year now makes the rustic, cactus-covered Black Mountain region just outside the city of San Diego more accessible to everyone. The Jas Arnold Trail for All People opened in September after years of fundraising, planning and construction. It consists of a flat loop accessible to people in wheelchairs, and also features signs in braille that describe the surrounding nature. Along the trail, filled with sweeping views of the desert mountains—and on clear days all the way to the Pacific Ocean—there are four shaded structures that can also accommodate wheelchairs.

It is the first accessible hiking trail within San Diego’s city limits, and was named after Jas Arnold, who first began to work toward building it several years ago, before passing away in early 2016 due to multiple sclerosis.

“My dad was such an inclusive person and this trail is such a perfect example of that, a place that can be enjoyed by people of all abilities,” Arnold’s daughter, Meagan Olson, said in a statement.

This trail joins a number of accessible hiking options around San Diego and Los Angeles.

The Jas Arnold Trail for All People, the first accessible hiking trail within San Diego’s city limits. | Photo by Byron Shoemaker

Near San Diego

A bit further from the city of San Diego lies the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, which also offers some areas of wide and flat dirt trails that can be traversed in wheelchairs, although there can be occasional rocks and bumps. The trails meander through lush meadows and groves of oak and sycamore trees growing in these marshlands fed by Penasquitos Creek. There is parking near the trailhead and printed maps available at the kiosk.

Also near San Diego is Mission Trails Regional Park, which has a paved, wheelchair accessible hiking path from the parking lot down to the San Diego River. Although the accessible part of the trail is short, this area is great for bird watching and relaxing. It is also the site of the historic Mission Dam, constructed by Roman Catholic missionaries from Spanish-controlled Mexico in 1809. This dam created a reliable water source for the area, allowing San Diego to develop into a thriving city that continues to see rapid growth to this day.


Near Los Angeles

Near Los Angeles, there are also several accessible trails within an easy drive of the city. The Arroyo Seco trails in Pasadena are known to be some of the most accessible in the area. This protected nature area consists of 22 miles of trails, many of which are paved and flat. There is a 3-mile paved loop that winds around a golf course and the famous Rose Bowl Stadium.

For a more outdoorsy adventure, head further north within Arroyo Seco, and park in the lot at the Hahamongna Watershed Park entrance, and pick up the paved hiking path that winds past the Jet Propulsion Laboratory into the Angeles National Forest. Although the pavement ends about a mile into the hike, and the trail becomes packed dirt, it is still doable for many wheelchairs. This main path continues at a gentle decline into the floor of a canyon.

East of Pasadena lies the San Gabriel River and Azusa Canyon, which offers the 8-mile-long paved West Fork National Bikeway. Although open to bikes and limited vehicular traffic, it is a great place to hike. The route is on a gentle incline, running along the river, which contains several waterfalls, and ends at a campground. There are accessible toilet facilities in the parking lot, about halfway through the trail and at the end.

Another good hiking option near Los Angeles is Placerita Canyon State Park, which has many accessible trails. Known as the first place that gold was discovered in California, the Placerita Canyon is filled with streams as well as sycamore and oak trees. One of these gnarled oak trees is registered as a state historic landmark, called the Oak of the Golden Dream. As the legend goes, this is the tree that mineralogist Francisco Lopez took a nap under in 1842, during which he dreamed of floating in rivers of gold. When he woke up, he dug in the ground nearby and found flecks of gold, setting off the famous Gold Rush. Today the hiking trail to this tree is flat and paved, although the last 50 feet consists of a dirt road with some small rocks.


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