Weather permitting, the Reserve is open every day of the year except December 25. The Reserve opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes approximately 30 minutes prior to sunset. Actual hours are posted at the trailhead.
The Reserve is subject to closure due to moderate/heavy rain which can cause unsafe trail conditions and flooding of the Escondido Creek. The Reserve is also closed during Red Flag Warnings (increased danger of wildfires) at the request of local fire departments.
Commercial photography photo shoots require a Special Event Permit.
Per the terms of our Recreation Master Plan, the Reserve is specifically designated for day use only. Camping and any other after-hours activities are prohibited.
California Fish and Wildlife and the San Diego County Water Authority prohibit fishing within the Reserve.
Olivenhain Reservoir is designated as a non-contact body of water and the San Diego County Water Authority prohibits the use of boats or other watercraft on the reservoir.
Swimming or any contact with reservoir water is prohibited at all times per the San Diego County Water Authority.
No regulations prohibit swimming in Escondido Creek. However, it is not recommended due to water quality issues. All water within Escondido Creek originates as urban/agricultural runoff from rainfall and over irrigation in the City of Escondido.
Utilizing trails after hours is prohibited and considered trespassing. Please enjoy the Reserve only during operating hours. The Reserve is located in known mountain lion territory and can be a dangerous place after sunset.
There are no fees for parking or visiting the Reserve, although donations are appreciated at the trailhead “Iron Ranger.” Your donation will help Escondido Creek Conservancy nurture the next generation of conservationists and protect the lands that make Escondido Creek Watershed special for people, native plants, and animals.
Currently the operation of drones is permitted within the Reserve. However, this is subject to change based on the discretion of OMWD Park Rangers. Operators are expected to be considerate, aware of all hazards, and adhere to all Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding drones.
The Reserve is a popular facility and parking is limited. On weekends and holidays, please consider carpooling or taking a ridesharing service, or visiting our neighboring recreational facilities. Vehicles left in the lot after-hours will be towed at the owner’s expense.
For wildfire safety reasons, there is no fire of any kind allowed at the Reserve.
For wildfire safety reasons, smoking is prohibited at the Reserve.
The Reserve trail system connects with trails from Del Dios Highlands County Preserve, which is northeast and contiguous with the Reserve. The Preserve is managed by County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation.
The Reserve strives to have the Interpretive Center Honoring Susan J. Varty open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. However, it is staffed entirely by volunteer docents and hours are subject to their availability. You can contact us prior to your visit by calling 760-632-4212 or by visiting our home page.
Free interpretative nature hikes take place on the second Sunday of the Month from 10:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. Reservations are not required.
Dogs are welcome at the Reserve.
- California leash law is enforced and dogs must remain on leash at all times on the “Way Up” Trail and Lower Trails.
- Monday – Friday: Dogs under effective voice command are permitted off leash at the top of the “Way Up” Trail (only beyond the designated marker).
- Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays: Dogs are required to remain on leash at all times throughout the Reserve.
- Additionally, dogs must remain on leash in parking lots, picnic areas, overlooks, or any time they become a nuisance to people, property, and wild or domestic animals.
Please pick up after your dog.
Park Ranger positions (when available) are posted at www.olivenhain.com. Volunteering at the Reserve as a docent is a good way to gain park experience for jobs in the recreation field and can be applied at any park.
The Reserve’s Recreation Master Plan allows for multi-use trails throughout the Reserve including hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian use. Motorized trail use of any kind is prohibited.
Olivenhain Reservoir is a part of San Diego County Emergency Water Storage Project, which will provide all of San Diego County with up to six months of emergency water supply in the event our imported water infrastructure is damaged due to natural disaster.
Personal vehicles are prohibited from driving on Reserve trails.
Elfin Forest Interpretive Center Honoring Susan J. Varty gives a voice to Escondido Creek watershed, inspiring visitors to feel connected to nature, value open space and the creek, and join in conserving this precious North County resource through personal and community stewardship.
All of the water in Escondido Creek that flows through the Reserve enters the creek through the stormwater collection system in the City of Escondido. In times of low precipitation, the creek flows with urban runoff from Escondido.
Water in Olivenhain Reservoir is pumped in via a pipeline fed from Northern California and the Colorado River. Local rainfall does not have an impact on water level.