Lake Hodges is one of San Diego’s many water reservoirs, created in 1918 when the San Dieguito River was dammed. In addition to storing water, Lake Hodges is an important habitat for resident and migratory birds. The hills surrounding the reservoir are primarily coastal sage scrub, and are also home to the coastal cactus wren, who nest in exclusively in prickly pear cactus.
The largest completed segment of the Coast to Crest Trail – a 22 mile segment from Santa Fe Valley to Highway 78 – includes a stretch of trail that runs along the north shore of Lake Hodges. 22 miles in one day is a bit longer than we were up for, so we decided that we’d do just the northeast side of the Lake Hodges Trail from the Summit Drive trailhead near I-15 to Del Dios Community Park and back.
We arrived at the trailhead before 7am, and it was already fairly crowded. Numerous mountain bikers were saddling up, and hikers with their dogs were setting off down the trail.
We started off down the paved walkway. To one side was the noisy freeway, and to the other side was dense brush.
As the brush to the left thinned out somewhat, we were able to see the sun coming up over the hills in the east.
A low fog hung over the river bed.
At .45 miles, the trail bent west as it passed under the freeway.
The sound of the traffic overhead was slightly muffled as we passed underneath.
Emerging on the other side of the freeway, the trail turned north for a short way and the traffic noise resumed.
As we approached the house-topped hills, we spotted a use trail heading up towards the residential area. The main trail turned west and we began moving away from the freeway.
At .9 miles we found a port-a-potty along the trail.
Just beyond was the stress-ribbon bridge spanning the lake and a bike repair station.
We continued straight along the north shore trail. The pavement gave way to hard-packed dirt and our surroundings started to feel more natural as the traffic hum slowly began to subside.
Bernardo Mountain rose up in the west.
Around 1.1 miles we encountered an unmarked “Y” junction. The right fork appeared to lead up to the residential area on the hill above. We stayed left on the main trail.
We finally caught a glimpse of some water in the lake just before the trail turned north.
At 1.65 miles we found one of the few shaded areas of the trail where it crosses Felicita Creek.
We made our way across the small wooden footbridge and found a tranquil spot with a bench just beyond.
We had a long way to go still though so we didn’t pause for long. We continued on as the trail ascended a short hill.
At 1.78 miles the trail leading up to the Bernardo Mountain Summit branched off to the right. We continued straight on the main trail.
We reached the top of the small incline and finally got a decent view of the lake.
We came upon an enormous patch of prickly pear cactus lining both sides of the trail.
At 2.25 miles there was a short spur trail on the left leading to a viewpoint overlooking the lake.
Back on the main trail we began to get a feel for exactly how large Lake Hodges really was.
At 2.7 miles the Lake View trail branched off to the right. This trail travels up along the hillside and eventually rejoins the main trail further on, so if you’re looking to do something different or add a little bit of ascent you can take it instead. We stuck to the main trail however and continued down a gradual slope to the left.
We had more excellent views of the water to our left.
Soon though, the trail turned northward away from the lake.
We passed a large area that was undergoing some revegetation work.
At 3.45 miles we passed the other end of the Lake View trail as it rejoined the main trail. We continued straight.
Around 3.6 miles we came to the edge of the parking lot at the Lake Hodges Boat Launch area. Here there’s a concession building with limited seasonal hours, as well as some restrooms and picnic tables if you’re ready for a break. It’s also a reasonable turnaround point if you’re looking for a slightly shorter hike.
We wanted to hike straight through, so once we passed through the gate we headed straight ahead through the parking lot until we saw a sign guiding us to the right.
We turned right, following the road.
We didn’t see any more trail markers, but before long a dirt path picked up on the left side of the road and once again we had some nice views of the lake.
The trail continued to follow the course of the road making for a slightly less peaceful and scenic stretch than the earlier sections of trail, but it was still pretty.
At one point the trail dipped down through a copse of oaks as it crossed a dry creek.
We finally spotted another sign for the Coast to Crest trail as the road turned left, leading to the entrance of Del Dios Community Park at 4.8 miles.
We walked over to the park to check out the amenities – there was a port-a-potty, several picnic tables, and of course an informational kiosk.
The Coast to Crest trail continues on from here, but we decided to save further exploration for another day. We found a picnic table to relax at while we ate a snack and rested a bit before heading back the way we had come.
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
||Moderate (due to length)
||Leashed dogs allowed
||None at trailhead; Port-a-potties at various points on the trail
For more information, visit:
San Dieguito River Park
City of San Diego – Hodges Reservoir
View route or download GPX from CalTopo