Bountiful Bernardo

Hike to the Summit of Bernardo Mountain in North San Diego County

Epic summit views, awesome cardio workout, beautiful lake vistas, accessible trailhead—all signs point to Bernardo Mountain in north San Diego County. Conquer it via a 7.25-mile out-and-back that climbs 1,000 feet and starts just off the I-15 in Escondido.

Park in the small lot just off the Via Rancho Parkway exit behind the driving range and just beyond the historic Sikes Adobe Farmhouse. You’ll be starting your approach on the Coast to Crest Trail (which will stretch 71 miles from Julian to Del Mar once completed) in the San Dieguito River Park along a paved path that parallels the busy highway.

The path is also popular with bikers, so stay alert especially on the paved portion. Soon, you’ll pass under the traffic and head into the park along a lakebed portion (often dry) of Lake Hodges. Check out the interpretive signs, the David Kreitzer Lake Hodges bicycle/pedestrian bridge, and the shimmering lake water as you move northwest towards the Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail (always clearly marked by signage!).

Enjoy a brief shaded portion as you dip into the canyon and cross a small, charming footbridge over Felicita Creek and amid vibrant green riparian flora. At the 1.75-mile mark, hop off the Coast to Crest Trail at the junction and head right onto the summit trail. Ignore the next trail on your right and continue up the rocky path wrapping around the mountain. Views are expansive, of both the surrounding chaparral scenery and the luxurious homes. Ignore a spur trail at the 2.5-mile mark and continue south as the ascent gets a little steeper, hugging a fence and water tower as you near the park’s apex.

Push through that final switchback and at roughly the 3.6-mile mark, you have reached Bernardo Mountain’s boulder-lined peak. There are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy a picnic or lie down and bask in the hiking glory. Relish 360-degree views of NoCo, including perhaps the best vista of the impressive Lake Hodges. Sign the guestbook before beginning your descent.

To get to the Bernardo Summit Trail via the Coast to Crest Trail, take the I-15 to the Via Rancho Pkwy. exit and head east. Take the first right at the golf driving range onto Sunset Dr. and take the road 0.1 mile to its terminus and the parking lot. Dog-friendly!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik (pictured here with his fabulous mom), @mattitudehikes

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