Used by permission, this rather comprehensive look at Lake Hodges, Del Dios Highway and sites far and wide, first appeared at Postcards and Passports, San Diego resident Tami Zehrung Wilcox’s extensive travel blog.
Only a few weeks ago, I took a day to discover Lake Hodges and the area surrounding it. I was astounded at all that it has to offer — especially its peaceful setting with gorgeous views! It offers all kinds of outdoor activities, and is a treasure for those who love to explore.
Lake Hodges is a beautiful lake and reservoir in north San Diego. Located about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, and just south of Escondido, it is central to many attractions and can be accessed easily from Interstate 15.
The east end of the lake runs into Interstate 15, while the west end is near Rancho Santa Fe and flows into the San Dieguito River Park. San Dieguito River is the source of water for Lake Hodges, which was created by first building a dam in 1918. The purpose was to provide a reliable water source for this area.
What’s Unique About Lake Hodges?
Lake Hodges is rather unique in San Diego county, because it isn’t always full of water. In fact, it’s big news when you can see water on both sides of Interstate 15 as you’re driving by. It’s actually more common to see a grove of young tree saplings where the lake had been. My kids used to lovingly call it “Forest Hodges.” But that’s only at the east end of the lake. There’s always some water at the west end near the dam.
And that’s why it’s still barely believable that some kind of river creature could be living in the lake. At least that’s what an Indian tribe purported when they protested the surveying for and building of the dam in 1916. Now, it seems that Lake Hodges has its own “Loch Ness” legend, and the monster is lovingly called “Hodgee.”
Lake Hodges and “Hodgee”
Really? Another legendary lake monster? I’m not sharing this to start a viral movement to search for the “Loch Ness” equivalent. But during the long history of Lake Hodges, there have been several attempts to determine if there really was a creature lurking in the depths of the lake. In 1921, two fisherman reported seeing “a large disturbance” in the water. In 1929, Excondido mayor, John L. Offit, officially requested that the City of San Diego look into reports of a lake creature. The project was turned over to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography for review. In 1930, one research assistant did report seeing a “lizard-like head” protruding from the water. While real evidence has never been found, there are plenty more stories to feed into the Hodgee legend.
Del Dios Community Park and Lakeside Trails
Okay, Hodgee stories aside. Lake Hodges is quite a lovely lake with some well-groomed walking trails, many of which can be accessed from Del Dios Community Park.
This park makes a perfect place for a picnic, a stroll, or some bird-watching. In fact, Lake Hodges has been labeled a “globally important bird area,” which I think just means there are a lot of cool birds hanging out here. The marshes near Del Dios Community Park are a great place to spot graceful white egrets and blue herons. For more information about all the birds you might find here, including the endangered California Gnatcatcher, click here.
There are even some nice beach areas along the shore.
I do need to note here that there is no swimming or wading allowed at Lake Hodges because it is a drinking water resource. This is a little disappointing because the lake looks so refreshing on a warm, sunny day. However, this is pretty much the case for all lakes in San Diego county. The water is a precious resource and must be kept clean for human use. So please don’t let your dog go for a dip, either. You can plan a trip to a coastal beach for swimming in the ocean.
The Neighborhood of Del Dios
The tiny lakeside community of Del Dios is quaint. You might also enjoy wandering a few side streets here as well. Everything is within a few blocks of Lake Drive, which runs parallel to the lake’s shoreline. Homes look more like vintage resort cottages to me, and many have beautiful flower gardens. I spotted a huge treehouse in one yard, and a “turtle crossing” in another. Like I said, this neighborhood has character!
Del Dios is primarily residential without many services, but Hernandez’ Hideaway (19320 Lake Drive) is a funky place to stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Enjoy their casual ambience.
Lake Hodges Boating & Fishing
While you can’t swim in Lake Hodges, you are more than welcome to boat and fish here. The boat launch facility has parking space for 200 cars/trailers and is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. With a full service snack bar, picnic tables, barbecues, and bait & tackle shop, you’ll find everything you need (except drinking fountains — please bring your own water). Boat rentals are also available, and you can rent rowboats, motor boats, or kayaks.
Wondering what kind of fish you’ll find in Lake Hodges? The lake has largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, bullhead and carp. You will need a fishing permit if you are 16 years or older.
Del Dios Highway
The Del Dios Highway is one of the least-known routes from I-15 to the Pacific coast — and perhaps the most scenic. You can access this highway from I-15 by taking the Valley Parkway exit in Escondido. Head west on Valley Parkway for about 3 miles, then take a left at Del Dios Road (Del Dios Highway). It starts out with normal sights — neighborhoods, trailer parks, etc, but soon turns into a twisting route through steep canyons with stunning ridges and bluffs.
This highway takes you from Lake Hodges, through the Del Dios Gorge, and further…in fact, it changes names to Paseo Delicias and winds you through the high-end community of Rancho Santa Fe before becoming Linea del Cielo and then Lomas Santa Fe Drive. It dead ends at Fletcher Cove Beach Park in Solana Beach, right on the Pacific Ocean. (If you’d like to know what you can do in Solana Beach, check out these suggestions.)
As I drove along Del Dios Highway, I stopped at several places to explore. I visited a viewpoint for the Lake Hodges dam, a marshy area at the west end of the San Dieguito River Park, a roadside stand for fresh produce, and the El Cielo business “village” to enjoy a European-style plaza. With a new cafe moving into the village soon, this will make for another great stop along the Del Dios Highway.
I also passed orange groves and farms, huge mansions and gated neighborhoods. Driving along Del Dios Highway reminded me of driving through the Tuscany region of Italy. This is a must-see route to the coast!
Want to see the Lake Hodges dam?
Drive southwest from Del Dios Community Park on the Del Dios Highway to highway marker 110. I was able to pull off the road here to park long enough to see the view of the dam, but there is also a small parking lot nearby.
There’s a trail that takes you down to the base of the dam. It’s a pretty canyon walk, and not difficult. I’m not sure I would do it solo, however, as the dam is sometimes the target of graffiti “parties”, so I’m not sure who you will run into on the way. However, the last time I was there, a security guard was posted to keep an eye on things. I’m sure that’s a thankless job!
San Dieguito River Park and Paradise Market
Look for the Paradise Produce Market (8175 Del Dios Highway, Rancho Santa Fe) and you will see the entrance to the San Dieguito River Park. An ample parking lot allows for several vehicles to be parked here while you take to the trails on foot or cycle. This is another area I’m not sure I would hike alone. However, even from the parking lot, you can see wildlife, especially in the marshes next to the lot. I saw a coot family with the cutest little “fuzzball” babies following their momma!
Paradise Produce Market is also worth a stop. This roadside stand has been here nearly 40 years. They have a nice selection of organic produce, chocolate-covered strawberries, chilled drinks, flowers, pottery, jewelry, baked goods, and more. I bought a purple tomato plant and brought it home to plant in my yard. I enjoyed the fresh blueberries even more! (They didn’t make it home before being devoured.)
Bonus: More Lake Hodges Attractions
- Sikes Adobe Historic Farmhouse (12655 Sunset Dr, Escondido)
The Sikes Adobe Farmhouse was originally built around 1870. The Sikes and their neighbors became part of a community of farmers that settled the former Rancho San Bernardo. Grains were a crop that could be grown quickly without much cash outlay, and the California Winter Wheat grown here became the premium wheat requested all over the world. Here at the Sikes Adobe, you can learn what life was like for early California settlers & farmers. Tours are available on Sundays from 10:30 am – 3:30 pm, or by appointment for groups. There’s also a certified Farmer’s Market held every Sunday.
This is actually the world’s longest stress ribbon bridge. It opened to the public in May 2009 and is designed for pedestrians and bicycles to be able to cross Lake Hodges (or “Forest Hodges”, depending on how much water is in the lake). The bridge is 990 feet long and is actually part of the San Dieguito River Park trails system. It is about 1000 feet west of the I-15 freeway bridge, and can be accessed by parking in the Bernardo Bay Park parking lot and then walking down to the bridge entrance.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little tour of Lake Hodges and the surrounding area. I’m a little embarassed that it’s taken me as long as it has to more thoroughly explore a lake only minutes from where I live. But you don’t have to wait that long! Please tell me in the comments below… what sounds most interesting to you?
If exploring north San Diego appeals to you, you might also enjoy reading “Rancho Bernardo – Northern Hills of San Diego”