Elfin Forest Hike To Lake Hodges Overlook

Elfin Forest Hike to Lake Hodges Overlook

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Lake Hodges Overlook
  • How to Get to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
  • Insider Hike Tips and Recommendations
Total Distance (?)7 miles (11.3 km)
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,500 feet (457m)
Highest Elevation1,270 feet (387m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
Park Phone760-632-4212

A favorite of San Diego hikers, this hike in the Eflin Forest to Lake Hodges Overlook offers a lot. Starting in a quaint valley along Escondido Creek, believed to have been a meeting point for neighboring native tribes, you’ll ascend the picturesque Way Up Trail until you reach the shores of Olivenhain Reservoir. After circling the reservoir, you’ll arrive at Lake Hodges Overlook, where panoramic views of the lake and mountain peaks are a feast for your eyes.

Elfin sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, but it’s not like exotic. Elfin Forest is a synonym for Dwarf Forest, the name for the heavy cover of coastal scrub found here.

Where is the Elfin Forest Hike?

The hike starts in the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve, just outside of Escondido, CA. Use this trailhead address:
8833 Harmony Grove Rd, Escondido, CA 92029

Elfin Forest Hike Directions 6
The parking lot is not big and fills up quickly. This is a popular hike. There’s an overflow parking lot you can use if the main lot is full. I’ve marked it on the interactive map that follows.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 4
There’s an interpretive center at the end of the parking lot. The sculpture in front represents the Native Kumeyaay creation story.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 5
There are water fills at the interpretive center.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 7
You can find toilets at the trailhead area next to the parking lot.

Who Runs the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve?

Why the water company, of course! The Olivenhain Municipal Water District, which built the reservoir and dam that we’ll see on the hike, runs and maintains the trails. They do an excellent job. There are lots of trail signs and the trails are in great condition.

Elfin Forest Hike Directions 2
Check the park website before you go (link at top) to confirm opening times and conditions. The park sometimes closes during rain and extreme temperatures.

There are 11 miles of trails over 734 acres in the Reserve. This hike takes you on what is probably the most popular route to Lake Hodges Overlook, but there are other trails as well. The Reserve website has a trail map if you want to explore more of the area.

Gear For the Hike

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Garmin inReach Mini
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.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI 
My Review & Guide
How is this Different than a GPS?

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.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon 
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2022.

My January 2022 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.

Elfin Forest Trail Maps

Overall the trails are well-marked and easy to follow, you shouldn’t have a hard time navigating this hike as long as you read this guide.

Elfin Forest Hike Directions 1
The first trail you’ll take, the Way Up Trail, has these cool mileage and elevation markers along the way. Many folks hike this trail to Harmony or Escondido Overlook only, and the beginning of the hike can get busy.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 3
There are emergency markers as well. If you need to call 911, give them the closest marker number and they’ll know where to find you. It’s a smart system that’s used extensively in San Diego County.
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.


How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Elfin Forest Hike Elevations
The main climb is up to Escondido Overlook, and then there’s some up and down as you hike along the reservoir to Lake Hodges Overlook.

Landmarks on the Hike

Harmony Overlook1.01000
Escondido Overlook1.751250
Lake Hodges Overlook3.41230

3D Map

Elfin Forest Hike 3d Map
After climbing to Escondido Overlook, the hike winds around Olivenhain Dam up to Lake Hodges’ overlook.

Elfin Forest Hike Directions

It’s easy to say thank you for these free hiking guides!
I depend on your support to keep this website going and free of annoying ads, promoted posts, and sponsorships. Every contribution, big or small, is my lifeline to keep this website going. Thank you!

More Ways to Support (for Free!)

Video Directions

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

Turn by Turn Directions

Elfin Forest Hike Directions 8
From the trailhead at the parking lot, make the left at the trail board.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 9
Check for any notices before you start.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 10
Continue left past the trail boards.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 11
And then make the first right and cross the bridge over Escondido Creek.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 12
Escondido Creek is beautiful here, thanks largely to parks like this and the work of the Escondido Creek Conservancy. Eventually the creek flows into the ocean at Encinitas.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 13
Right after the creek you’ll start on the Way Up Trail.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 14
As you might infer from the name “Way Up,” you’ll be hiking uphill right from the start.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 15
Enjoy the views and natural beauty as you climb.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 16
And check your progress with the trail markers.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 17
At the intersection with the Botanical Trail, make the right to continue uphill.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 18
The views get better and better as you climb the switchbacks.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 19
After about a mile in, you reach Harmony Overlook. Enjoy the views and keep hiking uphill.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 20
The gradient gets a little easier after the overlook.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 21
And soon you’re on the flat again. Keep straight on the wide, main trail, avoiding any trails off to the right.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 22
At the big intersection, make the left turn.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 23
I love the trail sign at this big intersection. It reminds me of the ones that say “Tokyo 4030 miles, North Pole 8738 miles, etc.” If you need to go to the bathroom, there’s one in the picnic area straight ahead.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 24
From the left at the last intersection, you’ll be going uphill.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 26
Look back and enjoy the views of Olivenhain Reservoir and Dam as you hike uphill. The dam was completed in 2003 and supplies water (via gravity) in case of an emergency. Most of the water consumed in San Diego county is piped in from the Sierras and Colorado River.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 25
Avoid any side trails to the left as you climb.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 27
At the top of the hill, hike to the right.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 28
And soon you’ll arrive at Escondido Overlook. You can see Escondido off to the left from here.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 29
After the overlook you’ll see the trail winding down along the side of the water.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 30
In the distance you can see Woodson Mountain (Potato Chip Rock) on the left and Iron Mountain on the right.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 31
Continue along the reservoir.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 32
Look for this turn off onto a smaller trail to the right.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 33
The trail winds around and has some fenced sections.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 34
The trail is smaller but easy to follow as it climbs up above the reservoir. The area from here to the overlook has all grown back since the 2007 Witch Fire.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 35
Keep your eyes open for a small turnoff to the left.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 36
The turnoff has a trail marker pointing to the overlook.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 37
As you hill you’ll begin to see Lake Hodges over the ridge.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 38
And soon you’ll see the pavilions at the overlook.
Elfin Forest Hike Directions 39
Enjoy the sweeping views down to Lake Hodges, which is actually connected to Olivenhain Reservoir with a pipeline.

If you want to walk the shores of Lake Hodges, check out the Bernardo Bay Trail. There’s lots of great birding along the lake.

Elfin Forest Hike Directions 40
From here you can do a little loop around the overlook area, or just go back the way you came.

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.

Have an idea on how to make these guides better? Leave me your thoughts here..

Related Guides

Popular Articles