Your Ultimate Guide To Annie’s Canyon Trail

Annie’s Canyon Trail

The whole family will have a good time in Annie’s Canyon. The distance of this short out-and-back trail is about 1.5 miles. The route has beautiful ocean views and is flat and off-road stroller friendly. The canyon itself is narrow and steep, and there are steps and a metal ladder to descend it. For kids who are unable to hike it on their own, I advise a soft carrier, even though I’ve seen frame carriers fit through. Wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin from rock abrasion. A few locations along the trail are ideal for stopping for a break or snack.

Annie’s Canyon Trail

How long is Annie’s Canyon Trail?

If there are no crowds and you don’t stop for photos, you could probably walk through the entire slot canyon to the top of the overlook in less than five minutes. Despite Annie’s Canyon’s shortness (about 528 feet long and 69 feet of elevation gain to the overlook), it’s a cool experience and definitely gives you the impression that you’re not in a SoCal beach city. When Annie’s Canyon gets narrow, it becomes difficult to pass people, but try to relax and take it all in.

Before the first set of steps, keep an eye out to your left for a large mushroom cave that you can access by walking up to. You might miss it if you’re too preoccupied with the slot canyons and don’t look around much. After that, the hike continues up two sets of ladders until it reaches the overlook. Due to the switchbacks, the trail’s descent is 643 feet long, making it slightly longer than the slot canyon itself.

Annie’s Canyon Trail

Are dogs allowed in Annie’s Canyon Trail? 

The Annie’s Canyon Trail is primarily flat and is excellent for dogs. The canyon’s slot section, however, is off-limits to dogs. I’ve seen people foolishly trying to cram their terrified dogs up the canyon. Please don’t do that to your dog unless you have a very small dog that you can carry around like a baby. Particularly considering the ladder at the end. For the best views from the top of the canyon, avoid the slot and instead take the switchback trail if you are traveling with your dog.

The Canyon Width


Due to the canyon’s slick sandstone, I advise parents who take kids hiking to make sure they have sturdy footwear. If your child is sensitive, I also advise long sleeves to prevent scrapes from the walls during the canyon’s most constricting section. As always when hiking with children, it never hurts to have a few bandages on hand in case of a fall or a scratch.

Binoculars for children are also advised if you intend to explore additional lagoon trails that diverge from the Annie’s Canyon Trail. The Nature Center is a great place to stop on the way to pick up the Kids in Parks Track Trails brochures. They can use these brochures to identify the various birds in the lagoon as they compete to receive free prizes in the mail. 

A baby carrier is highly advised if you plan to hike Annie’s Canyon with a child. You should have a carrier that makes it easy for you to pass through the canyon walls. 

The Canyon Width

How To Get To Annie’s Canyon Trail

From the 5 freeway, take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit, head in the direction of the coast (left or right depending on which way you came from), and then turn right on Rios Ave about a mile from the off ramp to get to Annie’s Canyon Trail. Drive all the way down Rios Ave until you reach the cul-de-sac. One of the trailheads for the Annie’s Canyon Trail is located here.

Where To Park

At Annie’s Canyon, parking is simple and free. The residential area next to the trailhead has parking available. On weekends, parking may be more difficult to find due to the popularity of this hiking trail.

When visiting Annie’s Canyon, kindly show courtesy to the nearby residents and their property.

Stunning Views on the Trail

What is a slot canyon?

A slot canyon is a small passageway with sandstone walls that are extremely steep. Annie’s Canyon used to be completely submerged in water. The rock eroded over time, eventually forming the slot canyons that we see today.

The rock erodes because of strong winds or water. The rock first develops a tiny crack, which is chipped away by the water and changes the shape. As the water gains momentum and transforms into a creek, erosion accelerates.

When water encounters a region of the rock that erodes more slowly, it causes the turns and curves in the canyons. As a result, the water discovers another passageway, which causes the walls to curve. It takes a very long time for all of this to happen.

Stunning views on the Trail


Due to the popularity of the Annie’s Canyon Trail, early morning is a fantastic time to visit. Choose a weekday morning if you want to avoid sharing the time slot with many other people because weekends and holidays are often particularly busy.

At night, Annie’s Canyon is NOT open. Only from sunrise to sunset are trails in the San Elijo Lagoon accessible. The slot canyon was a popular spot for locals to party before it was made accessible to tourists. You can see Annie’s Canyon’s less-than-glamorous past as you ascend through and pass the sandstone that has been burned, carved, and covered with graffiti. Locals were able to clean it up and make it accessible to the public because of an anonymous donation. Ensure that you stay on the trail and do not stray from it. The canyon has been closed off in certain risky areas for a reason.

The Rock Formations


The walk to and from the canyon is fairly simple, but the Annie’s Canyon Trail is rated as challenging. When you get to the slot canyon, though, you’ll need to do some climbing and occasionally pull yourself up. To leave the canyon, you must ascend a short ladder at the end of the slot. This heavily used trail can get quite crowded. 


Even though the slot canyon experience is incredibly distinctive, it only makes up about a quarter of the 1.5-mile hike. Plan to bring water and wear sturdy shoes as you would on any hike. When you reach the canyon’s rim, a camera will be a necessity. Binoculars are recommended for birdwatching along the lagoon.

Neither the trailhead nor the trail itself have restrooms. The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Preserve Nature Center has the closest bathroom, and it’s on the other side of the lagoon. Make sure to pack out all trash from the trail and the neighborhood before you leave.

The view from the top

Annie’s Canyon History

The delicate sandstone cliffs were damaged by vandalism in the area where Annie’s Canyon Trail is located. The area was restored, and it was reopened to the public in 2016 as an official hiking trail. The canyon’s trail should be followed, and visitors are advised to take care not to damage the canyon’s delicate ecosystem.

Annie’s Canyon Trail

The Trail

The distance to Annie’s Canyon’s entrance from either of the main trailheads near the street parking is about 3/4 of a mile. On a sandy trail that offers some shade from trees and bushes, the hike from the North Rios trailhead proceeds along the south side of the lagoon. Starting from one of the other two trailheads will require you to hike north until you reach the lagoon trail, which you can then take to reach the canyon’s entrance.

You’ll arrive at Annie’s Canyon’s trailhead after approaching from either the west or the east. It is identified by a sign and wooden fencing that directs you into the slot canyon. 

The bluff’s top, which provides a view of the canyon, can be reached via two different paths. The main part of the trail passes through the slot canyon and ends at an overlook. The more challenging part of this requires passing through a slot canyon, climbing steep steps, and reaching the top of a ladder.

The view from the top

This section travels in a single direction from the low point up to the overlook through the canyon. After that, you return to the lagoon by way of a switchback trail is parallel to the canyon.

Alternately, if you prefer a less strenuous trail and don’t want to hike through the slot canyon, you can hike up the switchbacks to the overlook.

However, avoid hiking down into the slot canyon from the overlook because you might run into people coming up and there won’t be enough space for everyone to pass. The slot canyon trail is designated as a one-way trail by the park service on posted signs.

You can enjoy stunning views of the canyon, lagoon, and the Pacific Ocean in the distance to the west from the top of the canyon. 

The Rock Formations

What else you should know

The slot canyon is not particularly physically demanding to climb through. Larger people or those who are claustrophobic might find it challenging.