The San Luis Rey River Trail follows a former railroad corridor along the river’s southern bank from the western entry, a few blocks from Oceanside Pier, to Mance Buchanon Park. A long (14.4 miles round-trip), mostly level, paved trail with no traffic lights and few street crossings, it's a good place for wheelchair riders, runners, cyclists, and roller-bladers to get an uninterrupted workout. For a full day’s adventure, begin with a picnic at Oceanside Pier or beach, then follow sidewalks (crossing railroad tracks at one point) to the Neptune Way trailhead. From here you can ride 7.2 miles to the new, 27-acre Mance Buchanon Park--which has soccer fields, picnic tables, a playground with some accessible structures, and a perimeter trail--then retrace your route to the trailhead.
This trail is best traveled in cool weather; although it is frequently breezy, there is no shade, and temperatures can get very hot. You will find few places to pull off to rest, and no facilities until you reach the park. Returning west, the route is slightly uphill almost all the way, and you will likely be traveling into the wind. Be sure to bring sun protection and plenty of water. Traveling with a companion is advisable, as long stretches of the trail are remote and sparsely used.
San Luis Rey River Trail
Trailhead: West end: At Neptune Way near North Cleveland Street in downtown Oceanside. East end: At Mance Buchanon Park.
At each of several street intersections, the trail dips steeply as it passes below the roadway, then climbs steeply up the other side. To avoid these steep sections, take the graded ramps up to cross at street level (note that some of the streets are quite busy, and there are no traffic controls at the trail crossings). There is no alternative to the steep dip at 3.8 miles.
From the Neptune Way entrance you travel down a moderate slope for a few hundred feet, at first riding between the railroad tracks and an apartment/condominium complex, but quickly turning inland away from the tracks. The vista opens up, and you see the river and lush streamside plants close by on your left, with restored coastal scrub vegetation between you and the apartment buildings on the right. Shortly after, the trail dips to take you under Interstate 5, with a steep grade up the other side before leveling out again for more good views of the river. After about a mile the trail runs parallel to Expressway 76, where traffic noise can be bothersome, but it soon drops down below a steep bank that separates you from the sights and sounds of the roadway.
After about 1.5 miles you leave the highway and travel along a levee with expansive views out over the broad river canyon that now spreads out on both sides of the trail. Here there is no water to be seen, just willows and other riparian vegetation—including, unfortunately, huge swaths of invasive arundo donax. In front of you, to the east, mountains loom in the distance. At 2.5 miles you come to the underpass below Benet Street; to avoid the steep grade down and up, cross at street level. Do the same at Foussat Street, 3.3 miles out.
Riding high along the levee with the riverbed to your left, you pass industrial facilities, open fields, and scattered residential communities on the right, with the expressway in the distance and occasional glimpses of the mountains. At 3.8 miles you come to a steep (and unavoidable) dip down and up. At 4.5 miles you come to the first in a series of residential developments close to the trail (you can reach one of them via a bridge across the gully that separates it from the trail); you travel next to these for about a half-mile to the underpass below Douglas Drive, which you can again choose to avoid by crossing at street level.
Still atop the levee, you travel through a corridor of willows and other trees on both sides of the trail, then past more residential developments until you reach Mance Buchanon Park, which you ride along until you reach the entry at College Road.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Mance Buchanon Park and Foussat Road trailheads. More public lots with accessible spaces are a few blocks from the western trailhead, just west of the railroad tracks; you can reach them from Surfrider Way, Windward Way, and Neptune Way. If you park there, you have to cross the tracks to get to the trailhead. Several access points have street parking, including the western entrance at Neptune Way near North Cleveland Street, Benet Road, and Douglas Drive.
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