Piedras Pintadas Trail
- Location: Rancho Bernardo Community Tennis Club (part of Rancho Bernardo Community Park), 18402 W. Bernardo Drive, San Diego. From I-15, take the West Bernardo Drive/Pomadero Road exit. Turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north and follow West Bernardo Drive 0.5 miles to Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Turn right into the park, pass the Glassman Center and park where available near the tennis courts.
- Agency: San Dieguito River Park
- Distance: 3.3 miles (out and back with loop)
- Elevation gain: 250 feet
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: Year round
- USGS topo map: Escondido
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
- More information: Trip description (longer route) here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 5
This section of the San Dieguito River Park was once inhabited by the Kumeyaay Indians who used the natural resources in and around Lake Hodges. Today hikers can enjoy views of Bernardo Mountain, Lake Hodges, spring flowers and a small seasonal waterfall, all the while learning about the area’s natural history from a series of interpretive plaques.
There are multiple trails leading from the community center, making many different routes possible. The trip described here samples the area’s scenery. It’s short enough to squeeze in before or after work or as weekend excursion but can also be easily extended on any of several other trails that branch off.
From the parking area, follow the signed Piedras Pintadas Trail north to a junction (0.1 miles.) At an information board, turn left (west), merge with another trail and make another left turn (0.2 miles), continuing to follow the sings for the Piedras Pindatas Trail. Stay straight at another junction and enter the wetlands of one of Lake Hodges’s inlets. Interpretive plaques identify the flora, including elderberry, wild cucumber and more. You cross a boardwalk and then a larger footbridge from which you get good views of Bernardo Mountain to the north and Battle Mountain, with its characteristic cross, to the east.
On the opposite side of the bridge, bear right and follow the trail around the south edge of the lake. Though the noise of traffic from I-15 is still audible, by this point it is noticeably quieter than earlier. You pass by an impressive oak which unfortunately has been blocked off due to human encroachment. Soon after, you follow another inlet, where you are greeted with the pleasant surprise of a 15-foot seasonal waterfall (one mile from the start).
The trail then enters more wetlands before emerging at a junction. Bear right and follow the trail to the beginning of the loop (1.2 miles.) The short loop can be hiked in either direction but by going clockwise, you get to save the best scenery for last. Follow the loop as it descends gradually, passing by a tall oak with a bench underneath where one can rest and enjoy a view of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain. Past the oak, stay right as the San Dieguito River Trail branches off to the left. You climb to the top of a ridge, weaving in and out of some large boulders, taking in some panoramic views before descending back to the start of the loop (2.1 miles.) Retrace your steps back to the community center.
Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.