SAN DIEGO -- The first time Jessica Johnson explored the Mushroom Caves in Solana Beach she was trespassing.
It was 2013, a few years after the 35-year-old elementary school art teacher first started documenting her passion for adventurous, sometimes dangerous hikes on her increasingly popular website Hidden San Diego.
Walking along the path recently, Johnson recalled that initial adventure into the network of narrow, water-carved canyons that rise above the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve.
"It was a crazy adventure, kind of scary," she said, eyes beaming. "I thought I could die. It's sandstone so it crumbles easy, and there's slot canyons that you have to climb up, but your adrenaline's going, and the child in you comes out."
Offering a practical guide to the San Diego region's largely unknown hikes and points of interest, Hiddensandiego.net has become something of a local sensation, garnering a respectable 2.4 million hits a year after less than a decade in existence.
From spooky forests, tunnels, cemeteries and abandoned buildings to gorgeous views and waterfalls, Johnson has cataloged more than 200 adventures, including pictures and often historical information. She's now expanding her footprint to include all of California with a new website hiddenca.com.
"A lot of people aren't into normal hiking trails," Johnson said. "I'm not. I need to have a reward. Hiking for endurance is cool and all, but I want to find something at the end."
As she relived the rush of navigating through dense vegetation to reach the sandy, sun-blasted formations, parents herding rambunctious preteens and thirtysomethings in athletic gear streamed by.
Last year, the hike south of the lagoon and just west of Interstate 5 was opened to the public and renamed Annie's Canyon Trail. While the paths have been improved and a metal ladder was installed for safety at a view point, many of the canyons have now been chained off.
Hiker Jon Copp was in town from Cleveland visiting friends for Thanksgiving. He said he appreciated the balance between access and protecting the natural environment.