Escondido is quickly becoming my go-to hiking destination with dozens of easily accessible trails that offer sweeping views of mountain peaks, lakes, and rivers. Bernardo Mountain Summit is an easily accessible trail in Escondido that hovers above the calm waters of Lake Hodges. The peak and lake are the main attraction in this 7.2-mile roundtrip trek, which also features views of the eastern half of the county toward the Peninsular Ranges and the Del Dios Gorge.
Located within the 55-mile-long San Dieguito River Park, the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail is gaining popularity for its stunning views of Lake Hodges and its moderate difficulty. The trailhead for Bernardo Mountain also serves as the trailhead for several other nearby trails including the nearby Piedras Pintadas, Bernardo Bay, Mule Hill Trail, Highland Valley Trails, San Pasqual Trails, as well as the Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve and the Volcan Mountain Open Space Preserve. This same network will be part of the proposed Coast to Crest Trail running from Del Mar to Julian, which remains to be seen due to various funding and land acquisition challenges.
The trailhead starts from the parking lot at the end of Sunset Drive. The concrete trail travels along busy Interstate 15 before it bends to the right and travels beneath the freeway along the San Dieguito River’s north bank. The sound of the cars speeding nearby was jarring at first, but luckily this concrete stretch only lasts about a mile before you get to the dirt path you will be on for the remainder of your hike up to Bernardo Mountain summit.
After the trail passes under the freeway, it will bend right again to climb up to a junction. The main trail keeps to the left and begins to move in the direction of Lake Hodges. The trail remains paved for a stretch until it passes the bicycle bridge, at which point it turns into a wide dirt road. This stretch is nice and flat, a welcome warm up for the ascent up to Bernardo Mountain which is soon to come.
Soon, the lake will come into view and the trail will bend right to take you through a riparian strip of oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, and a few Mexican fan palms. You will see a sign for Felicita Creek, where you will cross a wooden bridge before reaching the actual Bernardo Summit Trail.
Almost immediately after crossing the creek, you will see a clearly marked sign for the Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail on your right, which will break off from the main trailhead. Follow the switchbacks uphill to gain some height, and then your path will take you along the west bank of Felicita Creek. The terrain here is smooth and not relatively difficult as you dip up and down out of some rugged drainages.
Around this point, you’ll notice another trail to your right, which you will ignore as the climb begins to get more difficult. The trail switchbacks up to a large water tank and then passes along side the chain link fence protecting it. This is the most difficult part of the trail, with moderate switchbacks until you reach the summit. You might forget the difficulty of the hike as you get closer to the summit with views of the Del Dios Gorge and Lake Hodges shimmering below.
After you’ve taken in all the majestic views at the peak, you’ll retrace your steps down the switchbacks, past the water tank, while keeping right when you reach the junction. Then after passing Felicita Creek one last time, you’ll follow the Lake Hodges Trail back towards the freeway. Follow the trail under the freeway once more to return to the parking lot.
Driving Directions: From I-15 North, exit Via Ranch Parkway and make a right. Make your first right onto Sunset Drive. Follow Sunset Drive until the street ends. Park in the lot on your right.
Elevation Gain: 850 feet
Total Distance: 7.2 miles
Trailhead Address: Sunset Drive, Escondido, CA 92025
Who is the Sun Kissed Hiker?
Some might say that I’m over-the-top obsessed with hiking. I’d say I’m just a California girl chasing the sun one hike at a time.
Before hiking, my main form of exercise was going to the gym. I would hit the gym almost every day – buying cute workout apparel to motivate myself to lace up my sneakers and get out the door, pack a gym bag and bring it to work to force myself to go right after, try different flavor protein shakes for something to look forward to after completing a workout. Then I began to realize that going to the gym was forced. I wasn’t enjoying jumping on the treadmill for thirty minutes a day followed by spending an hour lifting weights. So I tried a few different types of workout classes. Few might be an understatement. I tried Pilates, Yoga, Zumba, Turbo Kick Boxing, Body Pump Classes, Orange Theory, TRX classes, and even had a short stint with CrossFit. None of them stuck.
Then a friend of mine asked me to go on a hike. I knew what hiking was – I’d seen plenty of my friend’s enviable photos from awesome hikes they did over the weekend but I’d never done one myself. So I laced up my tennis shoes, brought no water, and took off on my first hike. It was rough. I didn’t have the proper attire, felt dehydrated, and wished I brought some sort of backpack to lug my possessions in. But I felt something inside that I hadn’t felt in a long time when it came to fitness: Passion. With just one hike I had developed a passion and I wanted to do it again. So I did, with proper preparation the next time. I bought myself a good quality pair of hiking boots, a Camelbak, and remembered to bring protein-packed snacks and water with me. Then I found myself hiking again and again and again. Soon I found myself traveling to different states just complete certain hikes.
Six years after embarking on my first hike I’ve completed nearly 50 different hikes – most of which I’ve hiked several times! With the knowledge and experience I’ve gained combined with my love for writing, I started this blog in hopes that I can inspire/motivate people to take their first hike or continue hiking. This is designed to be a resource to introduce you to hikes that may be nearby or that you might want to travel to see – while providing you with tips and inside information to help prepare you for your adventure.
This California girl has a lot of uncharted territory to cover so stay tuned for new hikes and hiking tips to come!
Chelsea the Sun Kissed Hiker