Distance: 7.2 miles | Hiking time: 3.5 hours | More info.
Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail will keep you challenged all the way to the summit. The trail leads up the mountain from a beautiful green valley to the summit. There, you’ll have a clear view of more of San Diego’s most popular hiking spots in the distance.
Whether your goal is to reach the summit or not, the hike along Lake Hodges is beautiful. What better way is there to spend a day than by exploring one of San Diego’s great nature preserves?
Setting Out from the Mule Hill Trail Trailhead
The trail winds around the base of the mountain and past the creek to the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail junction. The trail to the Bernardo Mountain Summit begins at the Mule Hill Trail trailhead, located east of I-15. Traffic can be heard in the background, serving as a constant reminder that the city is always nearby. The vegetation along the left side of the trail continue getting lusher and greener as you approach Lake Hodges.
After a brief walk along a paved path, the trail curves sharply to the right and under the I-15 overpass. For a brief few moments, the concrete bridges overhead dampen the sound of traffic. As you progress move away from the freeway, the sounds of rushing traffic begin to fade into the background.
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 you reach the creek, the source and reason for the palms becomes immediately clear.
Beginning the Climb Up to the Summit
From the creek, the trail continues winding around the base of the mountain, eventually meeting up with the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail junction. Turn right at the junction to start the most challenging section of the hike as you ascend 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. The peak elevation on the summit is 1150′, making it one of San Diego’s 100 highest peaks. From here you will be able to rest and recuperate while taking in the views around you.
Bernardo Mountain Trail Hike Retrospective
Although the start near I-15 was slow, the hike was enjoyable with a mix of stunning 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.
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.
- John Muir Trail Day 13 – Mt. Whitey Summit from Crabtree Meadows Past Guitar Lake - January 10, 2017
- John Muir Trail Day 12 – Vidette Meadows Over Forester Pass to Crabtree Meadows. - January 9, 2017
- John Muir Trail Day 11 – Lake Marjorie over Pinchot Pass and Glen Pass to Vidette Meadows. - January 8, 2017