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Hiking San Diego

Bernardo Bay Trail - San Dieguito River Park

  • 2.5 miles - Easy Effort
  • 1-2 Hours (Total)
  • 250 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 410 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

The Bernardo Bay Trail in San Dieguito River Park is a natural oasis, just minutes off the I-15 freeway. In this short loop hike on the banks of Lake Hodges, you'll enjoy great water views, a variety of fauna, and a ton of wildlife. In fact, this whole area is known as a birding hotspot. And while I wouldn't travel hours to do this hike on its own, its location just off the I-15 makes it a great spot for a quick leg-stretching rest stop.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Bernardo Bay Trail Hike Directions
  • Parking For the Bernardo Bay Trail
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the Hike

Where Is the Bernardo Bay Trail?

The Bernardo Bay Trail is located in San Dieguito River Park, next to Lake Hodges, just of I-15 at exit 26. There is an official San Dieguito River Park parking lot by the hike, but it fills up quickly with mountain bikers, locals, and dog walkers. It's much better to park around the corner at the huge Rancho Bernardo Community Park parking lot. In this guide I'll start and end the hike from this big lot.

Use this trailhead address:
18448 W Bernardo Drive, San Diego, CA 92127

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The parking lot at the community park is big and never full.
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There is a porta-potty at the end of the hike in the official San Dieguito River Park parking lot. We'll pass by it at the end of the hike. If you need to go before starting, stop here on the way to the bigger parking area.

Gear for the Hike

This is a flat and easy hike, and you can probably get away with doing it in any type of clothing. Light hiking gear or fitness clothes work well. There's no shade on the hike, so bring sun protection. If you have binoculars or a long camera lens, bring them. There's a lot of wildlife spotting here.

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This area is a hot spot for birding. Having binoculars will help you spot raptors like this. Lake Hodges, which this hike goes along, was declared a Globally Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society in 1999. Thousands of migratory birds winter here.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated June 2024)

Bernardo Bay Trail Maps

The trails here are all well-worn and easy to follow. Most trails don't have signage, but if you follow the directions below, you will be fine.

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Stay on the trail. This area is a crucial environment for some endangered species, including the California gnatcatcher.
Click Here To View

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

Bernardo Bay Trail San Dieguito River Park 3d Map
There's some not-so-exciting inland hiking at first, but soon the (clockwise) loop has you hiking on the shoreline of Lake Hodges, which is beautiful.

Bernardo Bay Trail Hike Directions

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Head down the street from the parking lot, passing the senior center.
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After a few minutes you'll see this park entrance on the right. Head in and go down the trail to your left.
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The trail is narrow, but easy to follow.
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And soon you'll join a larger trail. Keep left.
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The trail winds its way to the right.
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And at the junction, make the left.
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Avoid any smaller side trails off to the left.
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Soon you'll see Lake Hodges in front of you.

Lake Hodges is a man-made lake that is used as a reservoir. It's also home to its own sea monster, Hodgee.

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At the split, head left to take the trail that follows along the lakeside.
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You'll get some great views on this stretch.
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At the end, rejoin the main trail and keep left.
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From here until the hike nears its end, you'll be walking along the shoreline.
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The lake is a haven for birds, especially migrating ones, and in this section you'll be close enough to see them.
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Stay long the shore as the trail crosses the rocky section.
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The shoreline starts to turn to the right.
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At this point there a couple of trails that allow you to access the lakeside. If you want to go down to the water, this is an acceptable place to do so without disturbing any fragile habitat.
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The trail turns away from the lake and there's a junction. Make the left here.
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Here's the sign at that last junction. We're heading toward the bridge.
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The trail rejoins the lake and starts to twist around to the east.
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As the trail heads east you have a few small areas of shade.
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Follow the trail along the south shore of the lake.
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You'll be able to see Woodson Mountain in the distance, home of Potato Chip Rock.
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When you get to the road, make the right.
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Follow the bike path up the hill.
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And then you'll reach the official San Dieguito River Park lot. There's a toilet here. Otherwise continue through to the other end of the parking lot.
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At the end of the parking lot, look for this entrance to the trails.
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Go straight past the trail board.
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And at the first junction, make the left.
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Take the smaller trail back towards the start of the hike.
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And soon you'll arrive at the parking lot where you started!

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.