Old Mission Dam: Mission Trails Regional Park

On the northeast outskirts of San Diego, sits the Mission Trails Regional Park, which is home to the Old Mission Dam. This nationally registered historic landmark is a great place to start a hike in the park or to admire on its own. It is well maintained and can be visited via a wheelchair-accessible small hike. Here’s all the info.

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  • Free
  • Open Sunrise to Sunset
  • Short trail but can be longer if you explore more
  • Location: 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119
  • Information from my visit in 2015


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Source for the below history.

In 1769, a small band of Catholic missionaries and their soldier escorts from Mexico reached what is now San Diego. Led by Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest, their job was to establish the first of a series of missions in Alta California intended to bring Christianity to the native people.

Spain granted the Church vast areas of land for the Mission’s use. This tract included 58,875 acres and extended from the pueblo land boundary of San Diego inland to the El Cajon Valley, and from National City to Clairemont. The padres considered the lands lying between Poway and the Mission ” a large and mountainous jungle, of no use for anything,” with one notable exception – the Mission needed a dependable water source, and an opportunity to secure one lay six miles to the east, in what is now Mission Trails Regional Park.

Construction of the dam began in 1809 and was completed in 1815, allowing the mission to have the water it needed. Most of the dam was washed away in 1916, but there is still a small part that remains.

The Dam

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After parking in the lot at the end of Father Junipero Serra Trail road, you will get out of your car and proceed to the start of the trail. At the trailhead there is a lot of information about the history of the dam, as well as plaque dedicated to its significance.

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From here the trail is only about 150 yards before you reach the site of the dam. When the water is low, you can walk right out to it on dry land, but when it is higher, it is better to just look from afar.

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I was able to go out and explore as the water levels were very low.

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After checking it out, take the small path in the back of the dam up the hill to the overlook.

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It has about 25 stairs and 150 yards of walking, and you will reach the overlook, complete with a bench that you can sit in and enjoy the view of the dam from. This is a great area to relax at as it is stunning and a decent vista for how low the elevation is.

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After you are done, you can continue along the trails behind the viewpoint or walk back to where you came.

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This is a beautiful area and park, and I would highly recommend it, especially for history buffs. Remember though, it is hot here in the summer. Have you done other trails? Let me know how which ones you suggest in the comments.

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