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Hiking at the Upper Otay Reservoir and Dam in Chula Vista

Upper Otay Reservoir

The South Bay is up-and-coming when it comes to hiking. The trails are less traveled, so you’ll often have the scenery all to yourself. A favorite new walk exists in eastern Chula Vista that passes the Otay Upper Dam.

You may remember my posts about the Lower Otay Dam, which broke in 1916 and caused massive flooding throughout San Diego County. The dam still stands prominently within the Otay Lakes County Park, where you can fish, hike, picnic and bike.

Nearby, the Otay Upper Dam takes you to the famous “Woods” neighborhood. You walk from a dam full of graffiti into a restoration project that seeks to turn a bit of this backwater into wilderness. From there, you’ll spill into elegance. At least, that’s what it used to be called when real estate agents offered an annual Tour d’ Elegance. Today, the trail will take you from a restoration project out to the backs of these homes.

The South Bay, including the Upper Otay Reservoir trail, is engaged in an unusual effort to turn a once suburban environment into a natural habitat. Counterintuitive perhaps, but it makes the hikes that much more special. When you walk in a restored natural habitat, you are supporting efforts to enhance the community.

Otay Watershed, Chula Vista

The sign gives us more information:

You are standing and maybe living in the Otay River watershed, an area of over 92,000 acres.

A watershed acts like a funnel, collecting all the rainfall and urban runoff within its boundary and channeling it downstream to the ocean. Chemicals, pesticides, oil, industrial and animal wastes all end up washing down this funnel. At the end of the funnel is the San Diego Bay, which is home to sea turtles and other marine animals.

This watershed is located between two other watersheds, one of the Sweetwater River to the north and one for the Tijuana River to the south. The Otay River watershed begins on the northeast slopes of Lyons Peak (elevation 3,740 ft) and ends at sea level in the San Diego Bay.

Here’s a glance at what you’ll see along this trail:

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