Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Lake Hodges - North Side

Lake Hodges is located just south of Escondido CA and is part of the San Dieguito River Park and the the work in progress Coast to Crest Trail. Although the place is mostly flat with the primary routes being fire roads there are quite a few singletrack options that spice the place up as well as put together a lot of miles.  This is a great place to take a beginner because they can stick to the easy stuff and add in the many side loops as their skills progress.  While this area is not exactly the mountain biking gem of San Diego county it has plenty to offer, especially if you take the climb up Bernardo Mountain.    Lake Hodges is also a popular place for night riding.  

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Here is a PDF map of Lake Hodges formatted for 8.5" by 11" paper.  

Electronic Files: TOPO!, GPX, KML Note: The GPX and KML files area a single course that combines the north and south sides of the lake into a 29 mile route. It is described at the end of this page.

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Directions:  There are several parking options for the North Lake Hodges ride.   I normally use the Self Storage Lot. 

Park and Ride Lot: (From Escondido and other places north) Take I-15 south and exit Via Rancho Parkway.  The exit takes you to a stop light.  Go straight through the light onto Del Lago (crossing Via Rancho).  About 2/10ths of a mile on the right, just after a McDonalds, is a Park and Ride parking lot.  Park here.

Self Storage parking:  Exit Via Rancho Parkway and go right.  At either the 1st or 2nd light (according to wither you where going north or south on the I-15) turn right onto Sunset Drive.   Follow sunset around past the Self Storage place to the parking lot.

Del Dios:  Del Dios Country Store is located at the west end of the Lake.   Take I-15 and take the Via Rancho Parkway.  Turn west and take Via Rancho Parkway 3.3 miles to Del Dios Highway(CR S6) and turn left.  Take Del Dios Highway .70 miles to Lake Drive.  Turn left on Elm street then turn left on Lake Drive.  Look for  Del Dios Country Store on your right.   Park on the road here or turn left at the country store and park along the street somewhere.   

Ride information: (Points referred to in the description are shown on the map)

Note: This trail was burned in the 2007 Wildfires and has since made a remarkable recovery. You may find that some of the photos are dated. Also please ride my options about the East End Access Politics and further down this page before riding out here. Also check the blog for updated information.

      If you start at the Park and Ride lot off of Del Lago.  From the parking lot, go back to the intersection of Del Lago and Via Rancho Parkway.  After crossing the intersection head west along sidewalk on the south side of Via Rancho.  About 30 yards or so from the intersection you will see a single track dropping off to your left.  Take this trail.   You will almost immediately come to a T-junction, hang a left and follow the fire road  for a while as it heads south paralleling the I-15.  After crossing a field, it will shrink down to single track and then cross a concrete ditch and then into the Lake Hodge area proper at Point A on the upper fire road. 

    If you parked at the Self Storage lot, you will go south on a concrete path south along the east side of the I-15 and then go under the freeway.  When you come out from under the freeway the path will turn north and then take the lower fire road that it just south of upper fire road at Point A.   


   There are a few singletracks between the upper and lower fire roads.  For this description I am assuming you are started from the Self Storage lot and have followed the concrete path south and gone under the bridge and then back north and are now just south of Point A on the lower fire road.  From this point head west on the old broken pavement (Point C). This is part of the old highway 395, the predecessor to I-15.   Follow the old highway for a couple tenths of a mile where you will come to the 990 foot long, 12' wide Bike and Pedestrain Bridge that opened in May of 2009 connecting the north and side of Lake Hodges. (Points R and O on my map). The bridge now allows for a wide array of riding combinations using both areas. Both sides of the lake are large enough that I am still going to maintain two seperate pages. I describe a sizable ride combining the two at the end of this page.

Continue past the bridge on the lower fireroad, after rounding a knoll on your right you will see a single track off to your right goes up to the upper fireroad (Point B). Take this singletrack and climb up to the upper fireroad. When you get to the upper fireroad hang a left and continue east.

Panoramic view from point B looking southeast.

You will continue east along the upper fire road for 3/4th of a mile before you come to the next significant singletrack dropping down to the lower fire road. (Point D) The single track that drops you down to the lower fire road from here is fun but overly short.  If you are not going to be climbing up Bernardo Mountain you may want to go this  way.  If you choose this way at the bottom of the single track hang a right onto the lower fire road. In about 100 yards, you will come to one of the Felicity Creek crossings.  This area is quite lush and there water flowing here year round.  From here you will just follow the lower fire road eastward.


If you are planning on climbing Bernardo Mountain I recommend not dropping down the singletrack at Point D.  Instead continue along the upper fire road for .35 miles more to another singletrack heading down to your left. (Point S)  You will know if you have gone to far on the upper fire road if you see an access road and a gate on your right hand side.  Take the singletrack to your left.  While it maybe short, it is tree covered and quite lush.  It will take you down to another Felicity Creek crossing. This trail passes by a metric butt ton of poison oak that can be as little as a few feet off the trail. The 2007 fires burned out the underbrush through here and the evil leaf has come back in a huge way. The trail has been maintained well and the stuff is cut back but mother nature is always looking to reclaim any untrammeled space. This would not be a good place to step off the trail to take a bio break.

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One of the trails that drop down from the upper fire road down to Felicity Creek

LakeHodges-11NOV03-16-Bernardo-ST.JPG (138664 bytes)After you cross the creek you will climb out to a single track.  If you do not plan on climbing Bernardo Mountain go left.  If you are up for the climb, hang a right.   The single track is pretty flat to very mild climbing at this point as it travels north along the eastern side of the mountain before turning back towards the south once on the north side of the mountain. The trail will now work its way further up the eastern side of the mountain. The climbing is still fairly moderate at this point. The trail will then make a switchback to the right at Point E and the trail will immediately become much more technical and steeper.

Views from Point E about 3/4ths of the way up the climb

Just a little ways after the steeper section starts the trail will skirt a fence surrounding a water tank.  The section by the by the fence can be a pretty tough section to climb dab free.   Once past the water tank you will continue with some technical climbing that includes a couple of switchbacks.  As you start nearing the top the trails moves around to the west slope of the mountain and provides some even better views of the lake.  There is a geocache on the peak that should be to find with a quick scramble on the rocks. There is usually a notepad in the cache to allow you to do the "I was here" thing. should When you do get to the top climb over some the rocks to find a notepad to sign in and give you thoughts on the climb and the views.  When you have your fill of the place return down the mountain the way you came. It is much more fun in this direction.


Views from the top of Bernardo Mountain


As you come down the trail you will eventually come back to the point where you picked up this singletrack.  This time instead of taking the single track back down to Felicity Creek (which is now down and to you left) continue on straight where the singletrack has some more fun to offer.  It will eventually switch back a few times and merge back onto the fire road at Point F.  From here continue east on the fire road for half a mile where you will see a Y in the trail at Point G.  Take the trail to the right and up which immediately turns into singletrack.  The picture to the right is that junction.


This upper single track is quite nice and parallels the fire road below for over a mile.  There are several options here to drop down the lower fire road as you approach the boat launch area.  I recommend staying on the single track as long as possible by bearing to the right whenever you have an option. There are a series of single tracks that parallel both the fire road and the main paved access road into the lake. There are a couple of really quick but steep up and down sections.


Eventually you will have to get near the pavement.  (Point J) Even then there are two trails (more like lines) that are right next to the road that will at least keep you on dirt.  Follow the access road east until you are forced onto the pavement by a creek crossing.  This will take you right into a large parking lot by Lake drive and the vehicle entrance to Lake Hodges. You will also see the Del Dios Country Store across the street. This is commonly known as the Del Dios trailhead.


BEGINNER NOTES: Lake Hodges is a good place to bring a beginner but the entire north side route I'm describing could be a bit much for a beginner. If you are unsure of your beginners endurance/cardio level I recommend that you split the ride up at this point. Do one ride from the Self Storage lot to Del Dios and back. Make a second ride out of doing Del Dios to the Dam and back. While this may sound strange to those of us who have been riding for a while, beginners may enjoy the wide fireroads more when they are first learning as it gives them a margin of error while still trying to learn how to shift, brake and steer in the dirt.

From the Del Dios parking area the trail continues on around the lake for 2.4 miles of mostly uninterrupted singletrack. At around 1 mile from the Del Dios parking area, the singletrack will come out in a small paved parking lot. On the far side of the parking lot you will pick up the singletrack again. Across the street is Hernandez Hideaway mexican resturant which is always a good option for a post-ride cerveza. Once back on the trail you will continue to follow along the lake for another .4 miles where the trail opens up into a wide pathway across a large open area.

NOTE: This open area is a result of a project with the Olihain reservior (That the Elfin Forest Trails go around) located in the hills to the west the Lake Hodges. A pumping and generator system was installed that connects the lake and reservior. At night, when electricity rates are lower, water is pumped out of Lake Hodges into Olihain. During the middle of the day when electricity rates are at their peak, water is drained from Olihain (via gravity) back to Lake Hodges through a water turbine generator and the power generated is feed back into the power grid for a profit.
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Views from along the Del Dios Trail

LakeHodges-11NOV03-34-Dam.JPG (73816 bytes)After crossing the open area on the pathway, you will be back to singletrack that roughly follows the lake for the next 7/10ths of a mile where the trail will turn more uphill. You will come to a split in the trail where you can continue roughly straight or make a left. Either way will take to the same spot but the left option is a longer rockier route that will soon take you up to an old paved road at Point H. Going straight at the junction will take you pretty much straight up to Point H. Once up on the old paved road you will hang a left. The pavement quickly turns into a smooth dirt road.   Follow this for about half a mile where you will see an obvious singletrack going straight and slightly uphill as the road bears slightly to the left and downhill as it nears the dam. The singletrack climbs for 2/10ths of a mile to Del Dios Highway at Point I. The San Diequito River Park trail continues to the south from this point but for this description this will be your turn around point.


From this point you will turn around and go back the way you came.  You have the option to retrace your path along the high singletracks between Point J and G or you can stay on the paved road and when you reach the Lake Headquarters you can continue east across the large parking lot to pick up the lower fireroad on the east side. Another option you can do is a nice side loop south of the Lake Headquarters. For this option continue on the pavement past the headquarters and follow it towards launch ramp number two. When you get to the launch ramp you will see a skinny singletrack on the east side (Point K).  Take this single track.  At the first left in the single track go left and go up really steep section that is only 30 or so yards long.  This gets you up on the ridge above the Lake Headquarters that has a nice view.   You can ride east along the ridge for quite some ways and there are a couple of trails heading down the ridge to the north where they rejoin the lower fire road.  Once back on the lower fire road you can continue east. Shortly after Point F the lower fireroad drops down and crosses Felicity creek. Continue along the lower fireroad back to Point R (The bridge) and then back to where you parked.

A view from Point K looking west.

The mileage for this route will vary with the side loops and options you choose.  Skipping Bernardo Mountain and the hill behind the Lake Headquarters will make this about a 15 mile ride.  Do the ride as described here and it will be around 23 miles.


Large North and South Route


The 990 foot long, 12' wide Bike and Pedestrain Bridge that opened in May of 2009 connecting the north and side of Lake Hodges. (Points R and O on my map) allows for a wide array of riding combinations using both areas. The route described here assumes you have read both reviews for the the north and south side and have reviewed the map. The KML and GPX files on this page are of this route.

Starting from Self Storage lot, proceed south on the concrete pathway, then under the bridge and pick up the lower fireroad. At Point B take the single track up to the upper fireroad and proceed west to Point S where you will take the singletrack off to the left to drop down to Felicity creek where you will cross it and climb up to the junction of the Bernardo Mountain trail. From there you will hang a right and climb all the way to the Benardo Mountain Peak. You will then come down the mountain. Stay on the to the Bernardo Mountain Trail all the way until it joins up with lower fireroad at Point F. Hang a right to proceed west. At Point G bear to the right to get on the upper singletrack and bear right all junctions once the singletrack starts descending towards the the boat launch area. This will maximize your time on singletrack until you reach Point J. Continue flowing along the lake past Del Dios all the way to the dam at Point I. Turn around and retrace your way back to Point J where you will go through the large parking lot and pick up the lower fireroad. Take the lower fireroad all the way back to the bridge at Point R. Cross the bridge and follow the bike path that bears off to the right alongside West Benardo Drive. At the end of the railing take the singletrack off to your left that follows the south side of the lake westward towards Point P. Bear right at all trail junctions to stay along the lake. After you go around the large hill on the southside of the lake the trail will get a little technical for a short section and then you will be back to mostly buff riding. When you get around to the south side of the large hill you will once again bear to your right. You will soon cross over a large steel/wooden bridge.
After crossing the bridge hang a right and take the undulating trail westwardly until you come out into a large opening near Point N where the main trail bears to the right and turns northward. Shortly after this point a singletrack bears off to to the right and goes up a small hill. Take this singletrack. It is a nice short climb with a little bit of technical after going over the top before it rejoins the main trail you were orginally on. At the junction of the main trail, bear to the right where the trail quickly turns into singletrack. Follow this singletrack in the northwestern direction as it parallels the shoreline towards Point O. The trail will get progressively steeper and technical the closer to Point O you get. At Point O, turn around and retrace your steps back to the sidehill single track but this time stay on the main trail back to Point N. Retrace your path back to the steel/wood bridge. Cross the bridge and when you come out into the large open area bear to your right on a fireroad up to the main junction of trails to the southeast of the large hill. Bear slightly to your left to go north on the east side of the large hill. After going over a small saddle you will drop back down to the lake where you will connect to the singletrack you came in on. You will hang a right and proceed towards Point P and back to the trailhead where you started. This route is 29 miles long with 3,000 feet of climbing.


Eastern End Easement Road Access


Hodges Upper Fireroad

Now would be a good time to bring up some politics and general baffonery regarding this area of the Lake Hodges. Several years ago I got a certified letter from a man representing 23 homeowners who do not like the public using the upper fireroad. Basically Point A to just short of Point D on my map. The primary beef was that the fireroad is for fire prevention purposes and not for public use. The letter went on to suggest I delete the eastern sidehill trails, and the upper fireroad from my map and make no mention of them in my description. It seems rather odd to me that land owners would have a problem with access now after decades of use. I did some research and yes indeed that fireroad is a sewer easement road that is on private property. The sewer easement is now also part of a fire prevention plan for the protection of the park and those private homes. The fire protection efforts are funded by public dollars.


I also did some on-site research and found that over 90 percent of the properties along this fireroad have gates in their fencing to allow the home occupants access to the upper fire road. On average, the property owners land goes less than 60 feet beyond the fire prevention road to the boundary of the San Dieguito River Park (Lake Hodges). Now it is totally within their right to put up a gate in their fence to access their property on and just below the fireroad. However none of those 23 property owners have any legal access into the San Dieguito River Park directly from their properties. The San Dieguito River Park has put up signs on the some of the lower access points alerting users that the trails beyond those signs to the upper firerods are private property.


While I was doing my on-site research, I watched numerous home-owners walk through their gates and onto the fire prevention road, and proceed either either east or west, trespassing on the other landowners property. The homeowners then entered the San Dieguito River park using either the illegal entry trail near Flecita Creek or the trails near the I-15. So some of the homeowners on the eastern end of the upper fireroad, want to be able trespass amongst themselves for their own pleasure using a publically funded easement to gain access to illegal entry points into the San Dieguito River Park.


These same people are calling for the discouragement of the public from replicating their own activities. Since I first got the letter the park managment has added additional signs at the western end of the fireroad that confusingly attempt to alert users that everythng uphill of the easement road is private property and everything downhill of the easement road is okay for hiking and biking. Those signs are not present from the eastern end of the fireroad where the complaining homeowners are. The public continues to replicate the actions of the homeowners by still using the eastern end connector trails between the upper and lower fireroads despite the various signage that is out there. What should do if you? Hmmm you will have to make your own decisions about which confusing signs to follow and which signs are only there to cover the parks butt and which ones are legit. My best advice is to not stand in the middle of those trails while you think about it as you will most likely impede the enjoyment of the those trails by both the numerous homeowners and the rest of the general public you pass by on those trails all the time.