In Escondido, which is in the northern part of San Diego county and less than a half hour from our house, is a preserve called the San Dieguito River Park. One of the main sections of this includes Lake Hodges, a popular recreational area and a pretty nice neighborhood in which to live. Overlooking Lake Hodges are several peaks. Today we undertook to climb to the top of Bernardo Mountain.
The beginning of the trail was inauspicious. The parking lot and trailhead are literally right next to Interstate 15. The first several hundred yards of the path run parallel to the 15, probably no more than 40 yards from the right lane of the freeway. Ah, the sounds of nature! Not to mention that there’s a bunch of construction on that stretch of the 15, so there are rebars sticking out of the concrete wall, orange cones, earthmovers, etc.
The trail turned and went underneath the freeway, along the edge of the lake. Once past the freeway, things got a little nicer. At this point, the trail was still paved. We found not too much further along that this part of the trail is actually Old 395. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it had been since cars traveled along this road. I wasn’t sure whether to picture Model Ts or ’59 Bel Airs with huge fins.
We followed the path and encountered lots of people out enjoying the lovely San Diego day (sunny and 70 degrees, as expected, though the air was a bit hazy). There were people with horses, mountain bikers, joggers, and a few hikers like us.
After a short while we came to Felicitas Creek, where we saw a white crane (not the construction kind!) hanging out in the water. We watched it for a few minutes, then crossed the creek.
A bit later the paved path turned to the left, and there was a trail that continued up and to the right. We were a little unsure at first as to whether this was the right way to go. There were a couple of signs at the very beginning of the path indicating that the trail was closed; but we thought perhaps the signs were barring foot traffic directly past the signs themselves. We continued along the path and didn’t see any more reasons not to continue, so we stayed on the path, which paralleled the creek.
After continuing this way for a while we felt more comfortable that this was indeed the right trail, and that it was okay for us to be hiking on it. After following the creek for a while, the trail bent to the left and started spiraling up the mountain. For the most part, the trail wasn’t too steep, and it was surprisingly shaded. We saw some interesting foliage but not too much wildlife. The most interesting viewing was of the neighborhood. The homes near Lake Hodges easily go for over $1 million, so the real estate we were looking down on was, as I frequently say, not the ghetto. Not exactly the backcountry either.
It was a very good trail, because the “payoff” view wasn’t until the end of the trail. We didn’t reach the western side of the mountain – where you have the view of Lake Hodges – until the last couple hundred yards. We got to the top after hiking for a little under 2 hours, and it was really good. There are several large rocks at the top which are perfect to sit on while eating lunch, and for standing on to take photos. Dave took photos of the 360 degree view and managed to turn them into a panoramic photo. The temperature was perfect and we had fun watching the butterflies frolic.
While eating lunch, I discovered that there was a little cache (actually an old metal mailbox) at the top. We opened it after we were done eating and there were two little notebooks inside, where visitors could write about their experience. I wrote a little note and put the notebook back inside, with the rock on top to keep the contents dry.
We hung out at the top of the mountain for about half an hour, then headed back. We stopped at the creek for a few minutes to admire the palm trees growing along the creek. Then we headed back to our car, and took the scenic route home, driving through Rancho Santa Fe and ending up in Del Mar. If the Lake Hodges area is the opposite of the ghetto, then I don’t even know what Rancho Santa Fe is the opposite of… very swanky…