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Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Click here for driving directions to Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve at 8833 Harmony Grove Road, Escondido, CA 92029.

The Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve is a spectacular 784-acre open space park and recreational area, which was developed by the Olivenhain Municipal Water District (OMWD), in partnership with the San Diego County Water Authority (Authority) and the U.S. Department of the Interior-Bureau of Land Management.

One of San Diego County’s most precious natural resources, the Reserve currently offers approximately 11 miles of hiking, mountain biking, equestrian trails, picnic areas, and scenic mountain viewing points. In addition, the natural beauty of the Reserve includes native plant communities such as oak riparian, oak woodland, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral.

Owned by the Authority and operated and managed by OMWD, the Reserve has been designed to unify the interests of domestic water supply development, natural resources management, and recreational opportunities. Conservancy staff, Park Rangers, and volunteer docents conduct guided group tours and student exploration programs to help promote environmental awareness and preservation of local watersheds. All wildlife and natural resources at the Reserve are fully protected so that future generations may also enjoy these wonders.

In March of 2008, The Escondido Creek Conservancy and OMWD partnered to create the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center Honoring Susan J. Varty, located at 8833 Harmony Grove Road in Escondido. Since then, the two organizations have collaborated to provide educational programing and environmental management opportunities within the Reserve.

Volunteer Opportunities

Whether you’re indoor or outdoor-oriented, we have wonderful, rewarding volunteer opportunities for everyone. In fact, many of our volunteers love the Elfin Forest so much, they volunteer in all of our programs!

Our volunteers enjoy perks such as free catered in-service trainings, gift cards for logging certain amounts of hours, and discounted or free docent field trips (examples of docent field trips include tours to the Hubbell Estate, wildlife rehabilitation centers, museums, butterfly farms, botanical gardens, etc.).
Find out more about specific volunteer opportunities.

A gnarled tree bent over to create shade over a grassy area with sunlight just breaking through the leaves.

Click Link for Elfin Forest Trail Map:

Trail Map – Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Schedule Field Trip

Every year thousands of school children take field trips to the Elfin Forest. All of our school programs take an inquiry-based approach to learning, and adhere to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). If your school resides within the Escondido Creek watershed and you would like to schedule a field trip, please contact Education Manager Ariel Reed: 

Interpretive Center

The Elfin Forest Interpretive Center honoring Susan J. Varty is a unique partnership of The Escondido Creek Conservancy (Conservancy) and the Olivenhain Municipal Water District (OMWD).

The Interpretive Center is located at 8833 Harmony Grove Rd., Escondido, CA 92029. For directions, click here. It is open subject to docent availability. Please visit OMWD’s website for open days and hours. For an interactive, 360-degree virtual tour of the Interpretive Center, click here (*the virtual tour was funded through a grant by the Elfin Forest Community Foundation). 

Our Mission

The Interpretive Center at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve gives a voice to the 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.


Completed in June of 2009, the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center was designed by renowned local artist James Hubbell and architect Drew Hubbell. The Center contains many permanent artistic components, including several original works by James Hubbell, along with his collaborations with other artists. The building also features green design elements such as the use of recycled building materials, solar panels powered by photovoltaic cells, and a green “living” roof. The Center is one of the treasures of the 784-acre Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve.

The Reserve and Center are maintained and managed by the Olivenhain Municipal Water District. The District got the ball rolling with a $68,500 grant to start the project, and The Escondido Creek Conservancy raised over $565,000 from individual donors to complete its design and construction. An additional $200,000 has been raised by the Conservancy to enhance the Center and support its educational programs.

Susan J. Varty

Susan J. Varty was a board director for OMWD from 1994 until her passing in 2009. Ms. Varty exhibited a passion and tenacity for water issues while balancing environmental conservancy and fiscal conservatism. On July 22, 2009, OMWD’s board expressed its appreciation for her many years of dedicated leadership by naming the Interpretive Center in her honor.

James Hubbell

James Hubbell is a San Diego County-based artist known for his spectacularly unique art and architecture inspired by nature.  He is a firm believer in site-specific, sustainable designs that stand in harmony with the surrounding environment. The Elfin Forest Interpretive Center is one such remarkable design.