Lake Hodges Dam is a nearly 100-year-old, multiple-arch dam that sits atop the San Dieguito River. You can find this dam approximately 31 miles north of San Diego, just beyond the city of Escondido. When full, the Lake Hodges reservoir can support 1,234 acres, has a maximum water depth of 115 feet, and 27 miles of shoreline.
There are two staging areas that will take you to the dam, but the one we will discuss here is the longer route that provides scenic views of both the reservoir and the dam itself.
The trailhead to reach Lake Hodges Dam picks up at the dirt parking lot across from Hernandez Hideaway, a local Mexican food restaurant and a good place to grab a drink after your hike. From the parking lot, follow the dirt trail. Almost immediately you’ll be greeted by impressive views of the reservoir, glistening beneath the sun.
Continue on the dirt trail taking in the majestic scenery surrounding you. On a cold winter day after a decent amount of rainfall, the trail was covered in green. Combined with the blue clear waters of the reservoir, it felt like we’d been transported to Northern California. Continue past the buoys and the SDG&E switchyard and Olivenhaim Pipeline pump house on your right.
Eventually the dirt trail will end, and you’ll begin to traverse along a paved road. This is when the dam begins to come into view and is a welcome reminder that you don’t have too much further to go before your each the prize. The pavement doesn’t last long, ending and becoming a fire road. To your left you’ll see an abandoned house and shack, seemingly out of place. I was curious how long the house had been abandoned and why, but had to continue along the road as both were fenced off to prevent trespassing.
Just before you approach the Del Dios Highway, you will notice a rusted car to your right, covered in graffiti. This served as a good stop for taking pictures, however I would not recommend getting in the car for safety purposes. Shortly after passing the car, you’ll walk along a dirt trail that follows Del Dios Highway.
You’ll reach another parking area, where one could park for a much shorter hike down to Lake Hodges Dam. Turn left at the end of the parking lot and follow the Del Dios Gorge Trail down to the Rattlesnake Overlook. At Rattlesnake Overlook you’ll find a pipe scope which allows for better views of the dam.
Continuing downhill from this point to the dam is considered trespassing. I advise against going any further as there are many areas near the bottom of the dam where you could get injured. If you do choose to explore the dam further, do so at your own risk.
Lake Hodges Dam Tips
Tip #1: The Lake Hodges Dam is a no trespassing zone. Violators may be fined. We did see one security guard making his way toward the dam on our way out, so be aware that they do regularly watch this area.
Tip #2: Be wary of rattlesnakes near the dam. In warm weather, they are prevalent here.
Tip #3: Exercise caution: the area surrounding the dam is dangerous. There are broken bottles, unstable rocks, and a chance of encountering some sketchy people. By the amount of graffiti in the area, it is clear finding trouble is not uncommon here.
Tip #4: Arrive early. Parking spaces are limited and taken early in the morning. Try to arrive for your hike before noon.
Tip #5: Share the trail. You’ll likely encounter quite a few mountain bikers along the way.
Tip #6: After your hike, stop by Hernandez Hideaway for some refreshments and tacos.
From downtown San Diego, take CA-163N for 11.2 miles and merge onto I-15N. Keep left to stay on I-15N. Drive 8.8 miles and take exit 27 for Via Rancho Pkwy toward Felicita Park/San Diego Wild Animal Park. Turn left onto E Via Rancho Pkwy. Drive 3.3 miles and turn left onto Co Hwy S6/Del Dios Hwy. Drive 2.1 miles and turn left onto Rancho Drive. Park in the parking lot across from Hernandez Hideaway, near the junction of Lake and Rancho drives.
Total Distance: 5.5 miles
Trailhead Address: Across from 19320 Lake Dr, Escondido, CA 92029