Bernardo Bay Trail San Dieguito River Park 2

Bernardo Bay Trail – San Dieguito River Park

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
Total Distance (?)2.5 miles (4 km)
Hike Time1-2 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Easy
Total Ascent (?)250 feet (76m)
Highest Elevation410 feet (125m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Dieguito River Park
Park Phone858-674-2270

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.

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.

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.


Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated July 2021.

My July 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

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

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

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

It’s easy to say thank you for this guide!

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn 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!

This guide last updated on March 14, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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