Hodges and Hodgee Monster

Hike the shoreline of beautiful Lake Hodges in Escondido San Diego

Find interesting Kumeyaay history, phenomenal birdwatching, and a world-record-holding bridge at Escondido’s Lake Hodges, one of the most beautiful lake settings in San Diego. (Oh, and there’s a resident lake monster, too!). Explore these diverse highlights and more on a 5.5-mile shoreline adventure along the south side of this massive reservoir.

Placard rock sign at Lake Hodges in Escondido San Diego County

Park at the San Dieguito River lot off Bernardo Drive to find the trailheads for both Bernardo Bay loop and Piedras Pintadas interpretive trails. The signed path has an immediate junction—head right to start your journey via the Bernardo Bay loop. Just past the Soroptimist plaque, you reach another junction. Staying to the right is the typical loop route, right along the water. But try out the middle arm, which climbs through the chaparral and soon reaches a hilltop before gently descending towards the water, with Bernardo Mountain’s peak looming over the lake.

Red flowers in foreground of Lake Hodges in Escondido San Diego County

Woman walking up to the the shoreline at Lake Hodges Escondido San Diego County

Woman looking at a placard rock sign at Lake Hodges Escondido San Diego County

The path then veers left, following the water’s edge and offering spur trails that lead directly to the shores. Take one of these to get close-up views of the spot’s natural aviary. There’s no shortage of classic waterfowl, such as mallards, cormorants, egrets, and grebes—perhaps the park’s most prolific bird. You can also spot swallows darting along the water surface, ospreys perched on logs, and glorious white pelicans floating with the wind current. If it’s not obvious yet, this is a bird watcher’s paradise! But it’s also the place to scour for a sighting of Hodgee, the legendary mythical monster, supposedly roaming the 115-foot-deep waters.

The path curves south with the water, and you’ll soon reach a junction with the Piedras Pintadas (translates to “painted rocks”) Trail, which has lovely interpretive signs posted on boulders talking about the namesake glyphs, but also morteros (grinding holes) and other aspects of the Kumeyaay people’s lives. The trail heads west along the lake, culminating in a lollipop loop full of rocky outcroppings and new views of the reservoir. 

Woman standing at a bench area overlooking Lake Hodges at Lake Hodges Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge

TIP: Once you return and reconnect with Bernardo Bay Trail and the parking lot, consider taking a final detour, heading along the paved bike/walk path at the north end of the lot. This leads you to the David Kreitzer Lake Hodges Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge, named after a retired planning commissioner and local environmentalist, which was designed specifically to have the least impact on the sensitive wildlife habitat. The 995-foot concrete walkway, also the world’s longest stress-ribbon bridge, offers great lake vistas and connects hikers to more of the park’s trail system, including one that takes you to the Bernardo Mountain summit. 

To get to the San Dieguito River Park dirt lot and Bernardo Bay/Piedras Pinatas trailheads, take the I-15 to the W. Bernardo Dr./Pomerado Rd. exit and head west. You’ll pass the bridge and find the lot at the first turnout on your right. Dog-friendly!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik.

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