Distance: 7.2 miles | Hiking time: 3.5 hours | Difficulty: 6/10 | More info.
The hike up Bernardo Mountain is challenging enough to keep you working, but not so challenging that you can’t take in the views along the way. The trail leads up the mountain from a beautiful green valley to the summit, where views of more of San Diego’s most popular hiking spots appear in the distance.
Whether or not you’re looking to summit the mountain, the hike along Lake Hodges is beautiful. And what better way to spend a day than by exploring the trails and landscapes of one of San Diego’s great nature preserves.
The trail leading to Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail begins east of I-15 at the Mule Hill Trail trailhead. The sound of traffic roars in the background, an ever-present reminder that you are never far from the city. The trees and bushes along the left side of the trail are lush and green, and continue to get more so as you approach Lake Hodges.
After a brief walk along a paved path, the trail takes a sharp curve to the right and under the I-15 overpass. For a brief few moments, the sound of traffic is dampened by the concrete bridges overhead. Just as you step out on the other side of the overpass, the sound hits you once again like a hot wave of air after stepping out of an air-conditioned office building. As you progress along the path and away from the freeway, the sounds of rushing traffic begin to fade into the background and you soon begin regaining your senses.
Shortly after passing the freeway, the paved path becomes a dirt road. To the left of the trail is the easternmost end of Lake Hodges, and straight ahead is a clear view to the rolling peak of Bernardo Mountain Summit.
As you approach the base of the mountain, the trail dives into a lush green valley with tall palm trees that seem to appear out of nowhere like an oasis. The trail soon passes a cool, shaded picnic area that’s nestled in among the trees and next to a trickling Felicita Creek. As soon as you reach the creek, the source and reason for the palms become immediately clear.
From the creek, the trail continues winding around the base of the mountain, eventually meeting up with the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail junction. Take a right at the junction and you will begin the most challenging section of this trip as you start your ascent up the mountain.
The trail leading to the summit offers a slow, but steady incline that tracks around the mountain from the east to the northern faces. Looking down from the trail into the valley you can get a glimpse of the houses and neighborhoods that butt up against the mountain along the park’s edge.
Continue following the trail for another 1.5 miles or so and you will soon reach your destination, Black Mountain Summit, where you will be able to rest and recuperate while taking in the views around you.
Bernardo Mountain Trail Hike Retrospective
Despite the slow start along I-15, this was a fun, medium length hike that offered a nice mixture of scenic views and challenging terrain. The hike up never got too tough and it was easy to keep up a nice, steady pace forward.
The trails are well maintained and accessible, which means that it can get crowded, especially on weekends. Dogs are allowed on the trails with a leash, and the hike isn’t so difficult that you shouldn’t bring your kids. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a lot of people do bring their kids, though we didn’t see any on the trail the day that we went.
Add to all this that there are no fees or registration required to set out on this hike and I’d say that you should mark this day hike down on your to-do list.
My Runkeeper Stats
- Miles: 7.51
- Time hiking: 2:18:32
- Calories burned: 1281
- Starting elevation: 200 ft.
- Peak elevation: 1034 ft.
The hike from Mule Hill Trail to Bernardo Summit Trail starts off a little rough, with the sounds of the I-15 dominating your senses. But the freeway sounds soon give way to the sights and sounds of the San Dieguito River Valley as you make your way along the Coast to Crest Trail. The trail is open and accessible to everyone, and is a popular destination for everyone from hikers and trail runners to mountain bikers and birdwatchers. There is no cost to enter the park and dogs are allowed, making this a good spot to take the family as well.
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