San Diego County has an abundance of reservoirs, 24 to be exact. They have a combined capacity of about 746,000 acre-feet of water and are fed from seven major stream systems in the mountains of San Diego. Many of these mountains are frequented by hikers, who catch a glimpse of these reservoirs while bagging local peaks. If you’re anything like me, a shimmering body of blue water is an enticing aspect of a hike, yet most of the time they are an unexpected surprise. Which is why we’ve created the following list of 10 hikes where you can find San Diego reservoirs, to help you plan your sight-seeing adventures accordingly.
Murray Reservoir can be found in the city of La Mesa on the boundary of Mission Trails Regional Park, one of San Diego’s premier hiking destinations. The Murray Reservoir has 171.1 surface acres, a maximum water depth of 95 feet, and a storage capacity of 4,684.2-acre feet.
Lake Murray Trail
With its wildflowers and paved road brimming the lake, it’s no wonder many San Diegans find themselves visiting Murray Reservoir. Bikers, hikers, and rollerbladers can walk along the Lake Murray Trail, a 3.2-miles paved walkway which ends at the dam gate and forces you to turn around, making this a 6.4-mile journey overall.
Lake Hodges Reservoir
Hodges Reservoir is nearly a century-old and still beautiful as ever today. When full, the Lake Hodges Reservoir has 1,234 surface acres, a maximum water depth of 115 feet, and a water storage capacity of 30,251 acre-feet. Sprawling across Escondido, this reservoir can be seen from a number of hiking trails in the area, particularly those found in the San Dieguito River Park.
Way Up Trail
The Way Up Trail may sound daunting by its name, but in actuality, it is a tamer hike with a steady elevation gain through a series of switchbacks. The trail eventually meets with a rocky service road which takes you toward the Lake Hodges Overlook Trail. Here, you’ll find several benches and shaded areas for taking in all Lake Hodges has to offer.
The hike up Bernardo Mountain is long, moderately strenuous, but worth every step. At 7.5-miles roundtrip, the uphill climb to Bernardo Mountain’s summit rewards you with glistening views of the north shore of Lake Hodges and beyond.
El Capitan Reservoir
Created alongside the completion of the El Capitan Dam, the El Capitan Reservoir is over eighty years old and has almost the largest water capacity of any of the dams in San Diego. Located in Lakeside, approximately 30 miles north east of San Diego, the El Capitan Reservoir has a water storage capacity of 112,806.9 acre feet, a maximum water depth of 197 feet, and 1562 surface area. It is also one of the best spots for bass fishing in San Diego.
El Cajon Mountain Trail
The hike up to El Cajon Mountain is a beast. There are more ups than downs and just when you think you can give your knees some reprieve on a short stretch of level elevation you are quickly let down. At nearly 12 miles roundtrip, you’ll leave this hike feeling exhausted. Yet on this trail you aren’t rewarded with just one reservoir, you’ll get three.
Anderson Truck Trail
The Anderson Truck Trail is primarily used by off-road vehicles, but hikers can also share the road on this 14.8-mile trail in Alpine. For a shorter hike, hikers can pick up the trailhead by parking near the Viejas Mountain trailhead, making their way past an iron gate and through a rural residential neighborhood before the trail takes you on a downhill journey toward El Capitan Reservoir. The reservoir looms closely in the distance, and you can choose how far down you’d like to go before returning back uphill and re-tracing your steps.
Miramar Reservoir, located in Scripps Ranch, is a newer reservoir completed in 1960 as part of the second San Diego Aqueduct project. The Miramar Reservoir has a water storage capacity of 6,682.4-acre feet, has a maximum water depth of 114 feet, and when full, has 162 surface acres.
Lake Miramar Trail
You’ll find many people picnicking and boating here, but many also come here to walk along the reservoir. A 4.92-mile dirt road and a narrow dirt hiking trail brim the reservoir, making this a popular destination for families and hikers alike.
Just 15 miles from downtown San Diego, the Sweetwater Reservoir is a popular destination for shore fishing and hiking along the Sweetwater Reservoir Riding and Hiking Trail. The Sweetwater Reservoir does more than just provide recreational entertainment, it also provides storage for drinking-water for more than 186,000 residents of Chula Vista, National City, and Bonita. Along the way to the reservoir be sure to check out an abandoned, boarded up home believed to have once been the home of the reservoir caretaker.
Sweetwater Reservoir Riding and Hiking Trail
The Sweetwater Reservoir Riding and Hiking Trail is an adequate workout with its ups and downs for mountain bikers, horseback riders, and hikers. The trailhead can be found at Sweetwater Regional Park off San Miguel Road in Bonita, and follows a narrow winding path around the reservoir. Keep your eyes open along your hike as several threatened or endangered species can be found here.
San Vicente Reservoir
The San Vicente Reservoir is approximately 25 miles northeast of San Diego, and is the newest reservoir in San Diego County. It was designed in partnership with the San Diego Water Authority to ensure a six-month supply of drinking water in the event water deliveries were to be interrupted or if a major drought were to occur.
Iron Mountain Trail
The Iron Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hiking destinations in all of San Diego, and for good reason. It’s steady incline over the course of 2.5-miles to the top of the peak makes it a trail most physically fit people can easily complete. At the summit to the south, you may have seen a body of water and wondered what this is. Wonder no more, this is the San Vicente Reservoir, brightly shimmering in the distance.
At 3,000 feet above sea level, Morena is the highest reservoir in all of San Diego and also one of the oldest. It is also the most remote, approximately 56 miles east of central San Diego, near Pine Valley. Morena Reservoir has a water storage capacity of 50,694 feet and has been a fixture in San Diego for over a century.
Lake Morena Trail
Pay a $3 day-use fee and you’ll have full access to one of the best hidden gems for hiking in east county. Start your hike on the Ward’s Flat Trail, walking south before the trail joins a dirt road that will take you around the lake. At 1.5-miles you will encounter the PCT, which is where you can continue forward or make your way back to the lake.
The Ramona Reservoir is one of the smallest in San Diego, located about 37 miles northeast of downtown San Diego between Poway and Ramona. Ramona Reservoir’s capacity is 12,000 acre feet, however there is no local runoff into the lake and therefor all water is imported through the San Diego County Water Authority. To get to the lake requires a 3-mile trek uphill, which deters fishers despite bass and small largemouth fish being present here.
Green Valley Truck Trail
The Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is north of Lake Poway and features a combination of riparian, oak woodland, coastal sage, and the ever-popular chaparral. The 5-mile round trip Green Valley Truck Trail is the trek to take to get the glistening views of Ramona Reservoir. The trail runs through the reserve and features a number of spur trails to extend your adventure.