The Lake Hodges area in Escondido is a popular destination for mountain bikers and hikers looking for a a good trek not too far from home. While its convenient location means you’ll be amid freeways and homes for much the hike, they’re far enough away that reasonable peace and solitude is achievable. The climb up Bernardo Mountain provides both a good workout and expansive views.
The trail began somewhat inauspiciously along a paved path paralleling the very loud Interstate 15. The view to the left was quite pretty, with a field of flowering buckwheat and other brush leading up to a wall of trees, and we tried to ignore the constant rush of traffic to our right. The trees opened up to what looked like a dry lake bed, I assume this area is under water in wetter years. Fortunately, the lack of water and nearby freeway didn’t seem to deter the wildlife, like the deer we saw carefully making her way through the tangle of dried reeds.
At just under the half mile point, the trail turned right and passed under the freeway. It felt strangely quiet and peaceful despite the cars passing overhead, creating a somewhat surreal experience. Emerging from the underpass, the trail turned right again and turned back along the freeway, turning us a full 180 degrees from our original direction.
At .67 miles, the path turned left onto a wide paved path. Thankfully, we were now heading in the opposite direction of the busy freeway. In the distance we could see the bicycle/pedestrian bridge which crossed Lake Hodges – the longest stressed ribbon bridge in the world.
Just under one mile into the hike, we reached the bridge. There is a pit toilet available here, as well as some interpretive signs relating to the San Dieguito River and the bridge before us. We ventured out onto the bridge to get some pictures and admire the dry lake bed below us, then resumed our hike along the trail.
Just past the bridge, the trail turned to dirt and the noise from the freeway faded to a distant hum. As we walked around the bend, the sight of our destination, Bernardo Mountain, began to emerge on our right. To our left we finally began to see the water of Lake Hodges, and we could make out the snowy white forms of egrets in the shallows.
The trail began to bend away from the lake and towards the base of the mountain. At 1.6 miles we passed a small picnic area with a single table beneath a canopy of oak trees. The small trickle of Felicita Creek passed alongside.
Around the bend, the trail crossed the creek. A small use path to the right led to the creek’s edge, where lush greenery clustered along the water. We hopped across a couple of rocks to pass over the shallow water, and followed the trail uphill.
At 1.8 miles, we came to the intersection for the Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail. You can continue straight along the North Shore trail which leads to Del Dios Community Park and eventually past the Lake Hodges Dam to the Del Dios Gorge Trail, but we turned right to head up the mountain. There’s a large sign marking the turn off, however its facing the opposite direction as you approach.
We began a gradual but steady climb along the west side of the mountain. Below us ran Felicita Creek, and we could see a strip of dark green that surrounded the waterway. Beyond the creek were a number of luxurious homes. At approximately 2.15 miles, we passed a fork that led to the right, apparently down towards the creek, but we continued our ascent along the red, rocky, mountainside.
The trail began to wrap around the north side of the mountain, and we encountered a number of humps in the trail that rose and fell quickly with some fairly steep patches. Around 2.7 miles, a use path leading from the surrounding residential area merged with our trail, and we came upon another sign denoting the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail. Take note of this junction for your return trip, as it would be easy to miss the turn coming back and end up on the path leading to the residential area.
By the 3 mile point the trail had snaked around a full 180 degrees and we noticed the surrounding chaparral was now growing over our heads. The trail progressed steadily upwards. After about a quarter mile the brush cleared and we paused to take in the view of the surrounding valley, with Mt. Woodson in the distance and numerous luxury homes below.
On and on we climbed across the rocky red trail through thick chaparral. We continued up slopes of increasing steepness, and after awhile came upon a water tank surrounded by chain link fence. The trail took an abrupt and steep route along the edge of the fence. Finally we began to get some glimpses of the lake again, and knew we were getting close to the top. A few more switchbacks and at 3.8 miles in, we found ourselves at the peak. We found a summit register in the form of a small notebook lying on top of the rocks. After signing in, we kicked back to rest and enjoy our hard earned views.
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Take I-15 to the Via Rancho Parkway exit. Go east on Via Rancho Parkway 1 block to Sunset Drive. Turn right onto Sunset Drive, follow the road until it dead ends, the trail head and parking area will be on your right. You can park on the street if the lot is full. map
|Total Distance:||7.5 miles|
|Elevation Change:||1400 feet|
|Best Time of Year:||Year round|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs are allowed|
|Facilities:||Pit toilet approximately 1 mile in. No water.|