Exploring Lake Hodges in San Diego

Gorgeous Views and Stunning Hills at Lake Hodges

Lake Hodges, San Diego

Photo by SD Fish

People usually associate San Diego with frothy waves, palm trees, and cruiser bikes. But San Diego also holds natural wonders that most people wouldn’t associate with the hackneyed California image. For instance, Lake Hodges is decorated with hills, chaparral, and boulders––and without a doubt, it’s one of San Diego’s jewels.

Twenty-five miles inland and a little south of Escondido, Hodges is more of a semi-natural wonder than a natural one. It used to be the San Dieguito Creek, but a water company commissioned a dam in 1918, and it became a lake. The lake is massive: 115 feet deep, 1,234 acres big, with 27 miles of shoreline and 65 miles of dirt trails.

The North Shore trail, perfect for viewing most (if not all) of the lake, is easily accessed via bridge. It’s actually called the David Kreitzer Lake Hodges Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge, and you may have seen its distinctive curves mimicking a suspension bridge off the I-15 near North County Fair. It doesn’t feel as risky and thrilling as a real suspension bridge, and it feels odd to step on the pavement and feel the stability of solid concrete. 

To access the bridge, park at the nearby Rancho Bernardo Community Park. For more of a journey, park at the Sikes Adobe Farmstead and walk along the bike path that was once Highway 395. Sikes is a haunting farmhouse built in the 1870s, and you can tour its quaint interior on Sundays from 10:30-3:30. During these same hours, there’s also a farmer’s market that sells, among other things, steaming hot tamales.

Whether you parked at the park or Sykes, begin the North Shore trail by crossing the bridge and walking left. As you walk along the path, you can hang a right to the Bernardo Summit trail, where you can hike two miles upward and view the lake from a 1,150-foot elevation. You can also pass up the mountain and continue to the fishing zone. As you continue walking into the west through the Del Dios Gorge trail, you can look down on the Lake Hodges Dam that started it all.

The North Shore and Del Dios Gorge paths are both part of the Coast to Crest trail, currently in progress, with 45 out of 70 miles complete. The trail starts at Del Mar Beach and stretches all the way to Volcan Mountain, which is near Julian. There are a few different trailheads at Coast to Crest, so you can hike as many or as few as you like.

Since Hodges is a massive lake, it’s inevitably a key place to fish. Fishing season is February through October. You’ll reel in bullhead, Florida-strain largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, bluegill, and carp. To get to the docks by car with all of your fishing gear in tow, get on the I-15, exit on Via Rancho Parkway, go west, then head south onto Lake Drive. Or, find your way by Del Dios, the long road that connects Rancho Santa Fe and Escondido. 

Lake Hodges has two boat ramps: one for low water levels, and one for high. You can also fish with waders and tubes on the dock or on the shore. There’s a concession that rents boats and sells fishing licenses and bait. And if fish aren’t your thing, Hodges welcomes other watercraft such as kayaks and sailboards. But it doesn’t allow for swimming. It’s a reservoir, after all! Water recreation is open Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from half an hour before sunrise to sunset.

Alongside the fishing amenities are picnic tables and barbecue grills, in case you’re not in the mood for sports. And if you don’t feel like barbecuing or packing sandwiches, look for Hernandez’ Hideaway. The name doesn’t lie––Hernandez’ Hideaway is very secluded. It feels even more secret after journeying through Rancho Santa Fe and Del Dios to get there. It’s nice and dark inside, with authentic Mexican decor perfect for enchiladas. It’s open late, so go see the sun set over the lake and then eat up. It’s the San Diegan thing to do!

And finally: somewhere in the Lake Hodges area is a small but majestic rock valley that people have pelted with graffiti. Back in the ‘20s, it was mined for gabbro (a type of rock), which was used to make the dam. I’m not one to give away directions to hidden places, but do a little exploring and see what you come up with. After all, it’s hard to resist seeking out secrets when you’re already tucked away in Lake Hodges, one of San Diego’s gems!