Piedras Pintadas and Bernardo Bay

Lake Hodges is a very popular spot with both hikers and mountain bikers due to its various, long trails and fantastic scenery. Miles of shoreline make it a great spot for bird-watching. The south side of Lake Hodges is home to the Piedras Pintadas Trail, an interpretive trail filled with exhibits describing the life of the Kumeyaay people who once inhabited the area, as well as the Bernardo Bay Trail which travels the southern shores of Lake Hodges. These trails can be enjoyed individually, or combined into a moderate 5-mile trek filled with a variety landscapes and wildlife.

We intended to beat the heat and get an early start on this hike, but even so found the parking lot bustling with activity when we arrived. We found the trailhead at the southwest corner of the parking lot.

After passing an informational kiosk, we came to a “T” junction. We stayed straight, following the sign for the Piedras Pintadas Trail.

We spotted some bunnies foraging in the brush along the trail.

To the north we could see Bernardo Mountain rising up.

There were numerous interpretive signs along the trail, describing life of the Kumeyaay people who once inhabited the area.

Around .25 mile we came to a 4-way intersection and took the middle path, keeping the wooden fence on our left.

The fence ended after a short distance, and another fork branched off on our left. We continued straight.

At approximately .35 miles we came to another “T” junction where the Piedras Pintadas Trail led off to the left. The right fork continued around Bernardo Bay, which we planned to do after we finished the Piedras Pintadas Trail. For now, we turned left.

Around .44 miles we came to a “Y” junction and turned right.

The greenery increased as we left the dryer buckwheat and sagebrush behind and entered a riparian zone along a creek.

We even found some wild roses growing along the trail.

We came to a large bridge spanning the creek.

There was still a decent amount of water in the creek.

Once across the bridge we turned right, making our way northwest.

The morning clouds were burning off, and the day was warming up.

As we continued, we began to catch some glimpses of the waters of Lake Hodges.

Around 1.2 miles we began to ascend.

There were a couple of switchbacks, then we found ourselves next to a wooden fence overlooking a small waterfall. The flow was down to a modest trickle, but we were pretty impressed to see anything this late in the season.

The trail then led us uphill a bit further until we were just outside a residential area. The trail then turned to the north and we enjoyed a brief stretch of shade while crossing the small stream that fed the waterfall.

We found more rabbits lurking along the trail.

The cool shade of the stream quickly disappeared, and once again we found ourselves in more arid surroundings.

Around 1.46 miles we came to a “Y” junction.

The left fork led up to a gated utility road. We continued on the right fork and quickly came upon another junction. This was the beginning of a small loop, so you can go either way. We took the left fork.

We had more beautiful views of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain on the opposite shore. Around 1.7 miles was a large oak tree with a bench underneath – a lovely spot to sit down for a snack and enjoy the view.

There was also a large, flat rock with grinding holes, or morteros, where the Kumeyaay once prepared their food.

Soon after, the trail turned to the right and began climbing uphill.

The trail made a U-turn as we began heading back the opposite side of the loop while still climbing the small ridge.

There were several rocky outcroppings that provided great overlooks. We could see the trail we had come in on to the east beyond the bay.

The high point along the ridge had some wonderful boulders on it, one of the few rocky sections of the trail.

At 2.1 miles we found a nice little overlook area, complete with bench.

From there it was a short downhill stretch back to the start of the loop.

We retraced our route all the way back to the “T” junction where the Piedras Pintadas Trail had split off. Our total mileage at this point was 3.3 miles. If you’ve had enough at this point you can turn right and be back to the parking area fairly quickly. We were still ready for more, so we turned left to continue on.

We followed the wide, dirt path as it curved around. Before long we could see the water of Bernardo Bay. The ridge we had just climbed along the Piedras Pintadas Trail rose up on the opposite shore to our left.

We spotted some Grebes swimming near the reeds in the water.

The trail began to curve eastward, and we could see Bernardo Mountain across the lake.

There were plenty of good bird-spotting opportunities near the shore.

Around 4.24 miles we came to another large junction with multiple trail splits. There was a path to the right leading uphill which bisected the wide peninsula we were traversing, and led back towards our starting point. We stayed to the left however, to continue our trek along the shore.

There was the occasional oak tree along the otherwise exposed hillside.

Of more interest was the placid waters of the lake. It was nice to see the water levels so high after several years of drought.

We made our way along the shore until right around 5 miles when we neared the road.

A short uphill climb brought us to a paved bike path. We turned right and followed the path a short distance to return to the parking lot.

View the full photo gallery

From I-15, take the W Bernardo Dr/Pomerado Rd exit and head west on West Bernardo Drive. Follow West Bernardo Drive for approximately .3 miles. The parking lot will be on your right. map

Total Distance: 5.15 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 500 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Port-a-potty in parking lot, no water
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
San Diegutio River Park
Trail Brochure and Map
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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