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Lake Hodges has become one of the key units in the sprawling San Dieguito River Park, slowly taking form along 55 miles of river valley from the coast at Del Mar to Volcan Mountain near Julian. Designated hiking/biking trails have been in place around the lake's shoreline for several years now, most notably the Coast to Crest Trail following the north shore.

Hikers and especially mountain bikers will enjoy the stretch of Coast-to-Crest Trail that parallels Lake Drive through Del Dios and wraps around the north shore of the lake as far east as Interstate 15. On the east part of the trail, actually a former service road designated for nonmotorized travel,

you curl around the base

of 1150-foot Bernardo Mountain, always staying a fair distance above the water level. The lake itself hasn't filled to capacity this year due to a lackluster rainy season. Nonetheless, you can look for hawks and ravens patrolling the slopes above and sometimes gliding over the wind-rippled surface of the lake below.

Nearing I-15, you cross a tiny stream where oaks, sycamores, palms, and other water-loving vegetation thrive. The trail continues under I-15 and eventually connects with Via Rancho Parkway -- though new construction is in the works that will extend the Coast-to-Crest Trail upstream through San Pasqual Valley and into the headwaters of Santa Ysabel Creek beyond Ramona. Another project in the works is a pedestrian bridge/bicycle path to be routed over the shallow lake surface just west of the current ten-lane I-15 roadway.

Now is the time to enjoy the last of our cool springtime weather -- courtesy of the lingering marine layer -- before summer's heat and dryness hit with a vengeance. By then, this and other inland trails can still be traveled in relative comfort if it's either early morning or late afternoon. We're also nearing the time of summer solstice, when sunset occurs as late as 8 p.m. and after-dinner outdoor recreation makes sense.

For more information about the San Dieguito River Park, including its program of interpretive hikes around the Lake Hodges area, call 858-674-2270.

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