Vien R. Guenther
Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail & Bernardo Bay Trail – San Diego County, California
The trail to the summit of Bernardo Mountain is considered a moderately challenging route. If you are looking for a quiet nature trail then this is not for you. Parts of this trail are shared with bikers and it is also one of the more popular trails in San Diego County. This is due to its location in the middle of a populated area with easy access from the freeway. Considering all this, this is still a nice hiking trail with spectacular views of Lake Hodges, surrounding hills and the urban sprawl from the summit.
Bernardo Mountain is near the San Dieguito River Park trails, an independent local government agency responsible for creating and managing a natural open space park in San Dieguito River Valley. The mountain, which rises to over 1,100 feet elevation on the north side of Lake Hodges, was protected from planned development as it was purchased by San Dieguito River Park and San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy in 2004. Golden eagles once nested on this summit.
TO GET HERE
There are three ways to begin your hike to the summit of Bernardo Mountain. One is by Sunset Drive Staging Area by E. Via Rancho Parkway and Sunset Drive. The other one is the Bernardo Bay Park/Piedras Pintadas Trailhead by West Bernardo Drive. There is also one by Hodges Reservoir Visitor Center/Boat Dock Parking Area reaches W. Via Rancho Parkway and Lake Drive. Wherever you are driving from you have three choices.
- THE HIKE -
The easiest way, at least to us, is to begin the hike by the Bernardo Bay Park/Piedras Pintadas Trailhead. The best time to hike is during cooler months since there is no shade to be found here and you will be in the open most of the way, throughout the hike. Part of the trail is rocky so proper hiking shoes are advisable, breaking your ankle is not a good thing during the hike.
BERNARDO MOUNTAIN SUMMIT TRAIL (via Bernardo Bay Park) – 6.5 to 10 miles
Starting from the Bernardo Bay Park/Piedras Pintadas Trailhead, head down to the Lake Hodges Pedestrian bridge. This beautiful pedestrian bridge was officially named David Kreitzer Lake Hodges Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge, named after a long-time San Dieguito River Park supporter, volunteer and civic activist. The stress-ribbon (suspension) design bridge was opened to the public on May 15, 2009. It spans Lake Hodges stretching 995 feet from end to end, the longest bridge of its type in the world, at least when it was built. Its design has the least impact on environmentally sensitive habitats like Lake Hodges.
Water was still high under the bridge the first time we came here in 2011 (photo above), but since then the water receded (photo below) in Lake Hodges and trees have grown around and under the footbridge today. You will see this bridge driving by on I-15.
One of the perks of hiking here is the view of Lake Hodges from above. This reservoir was created when the San Dieguito River was dammed in 1918. The lake was designated a globally Important Bird Area in 1999. There are hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds at Lake Hodges and the hillsides around the lake are dominated by coastal sage scrub.
After crossing the pedestrian bridge, turn left and follow the Mission Road Trail. This trail becomes the San Dieguito River Trail and continues on to Lake Hodges Visitor Center and beyond, as part of the Coast to Crest Trail. You will cross a stream before the uphill trail begins, then shortly at a junction is a sign to the Bernardo Summit Trail. Follow this trail all the way to the top. There is only one, you can't miss it.
Before long you will find yourself on the summit. This is fairly a short hike after all. The view from up there is spectacular, so you might want to hang around and enjoy the view before heading back.
We hiked here with my sister and cousins one time and we found no one at the summit and got to enjoy the place for ourselves - but just for a while. This is a popular trail, and hiking early is your best bet to be alone on the summit.
BERNARDO BAY TRAIL - 2.4 miles
There are trails here other than the one to Bernardo Mountain summit, so you can make your hike longer if you wish. My husband, Hermann, hiked here several times by himself, which means he takes longer hikes if I'm not with him. You can take the easy 2.4 miles Bernardo Bay Trail after summiting Bernardo Mountain, or hike it another time. You will find plenty of photo opportunities here at ground level as well.
Bring water, you can get dehydrated even in cool weather. Snacks, or lunch, to boost your energy is advisable.