If the cool, wet weather kept you indoors this winter, it is time to shake off the cabin fever and explore the Black Mountain Open Space Park. Cool weather is a perfect time to hike the shade-free slopes. Decomposed granite stones line the Miner’s Loop trail that is moderately steep, so hiking boots are advised and trekking poles can be useful. Black sage is the dominant plant in the park, although the trail features many native plants, such as mission manzanita, lilac, lemonade berry, laurel sumac, monkey flower, chaparral broom, sagebrush, chamise, bedstraw, lichens and silver-backed ferns. The manzanita sports clusters of small, pink-tinged white flowers in late January. On a wet day, be on the lookout for spider webs glistening with diamond-like raindrops. There are spots along the trail with great views of the surrounding areas, including Lake Hodges, Carmel Mountain, Palomar Mountain, and Mount Woodson. Keep following the trail past the Glider Point marker near the rail fence in order to stay on the Miner’s Loop.
If the views inspire you for a longer hike, before turning to the left at the next fork back toward the entrance, turn to the right. From this point, other trails such as the Nighthawk trail and the Little Black Loop trail can be accessed. On rainy days, the cutoff from Miner’s Loop to Nighthawk can be very wet with a slick clay surface. For the most part, the junctions are well marked, but keep an eye on your back trail to avoid getting lost. If you keep following the left forks, a short section of the Nighthawk and Little Black Loop trails will be followed and will eventually hook up to the East Rim trail. The views along the East Rim are grand, with numerous small trails splitting off into private lands.
A good place to end the hike before turning around would be at a wooden bench at elevation 905 feet with a great view of Carmel Mountain Road and Rancho Bernardo. Looking in the other direction, Point Loma is visible. Beyond the bench, the trail gets steep again with old burned manzanita branches peeking up among the new growth. Near the peak, the left fork narrows down with an overgrowth of fragrant black sage. The right fork keeps going indefinitely through an elfin forest without much in the way of views. A mountain lion was seen in this portion of the trail and the territorial markings of scat piles indicate a regular presence. If hiking this route, it may be best to do so in a group. Hikers will share the trail with mountain bikers as well as the mountain lion, so keep alert. Look around and above to spot quail, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, and other wildlife that share the space.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 23 miles. Allow 35 minutes driving time. There are several entrances to the park, but the closest one to the Miner’s Ridge Loop trail is off Carmel Valley Road. From I-15, head west on SR56 and take the Black Mountain Road exit. Turn north (right) on Black Mountain Road and continue for a couple of miles until the road ends. Turn right onto Carmel Valley Road. The park entrance and access road to Miner’s Ridge Loop is about 0.75 mile down on the right, past the Glider Park entrance. Parking is free. No restroom facilities or water. From the kiosk where the park map is posted, walk to your left to get to the trailhead. Free copies of the map can sometimes be found at the kiosk or online at http://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/pdf/blackmountaintrailmap.pdf.
Hiking length: Approximately 4 miles out and back on the Miner’s Ridge Loop Trail to the East Rim Trail via a short distance on the Nighthawk Trail.
Difficulty: Intermediate with an elevation gain/loss of 450 feet.