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Del Dios Gorge Trail, a small piece of the Coast to Crest Trail

Hike to the “Rattlesnake” Viewing Platform to view Lake Hodges Dam

An iron bridge spans Del Dios Gorge.
An iron bridge spans Del Dios Gorge.
Del Dios Gorge overlook to Lake Hodges Dam

This trail is part of the Coast to Crest Trail of the San Dieguito River Park. The 70-mile planned Coast to Crest Trail will extend one day from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the shore at Del Mar. Del Dios Gorge is within this planned area, but only part of it is accessible. Del Dios Gorge is partly inundated by the Lake Hodges Reservoir created in 1918 on completion of the Lake Hodges Dam.

Start of the Del Dios trail

Different plant communities are found along the Del Dios trail. From the parking area, head east toward the dam. The plants found on the early part of the trail are common to the coastal chaparral habitat, including sagebrush, white sage, and some large coast prickly pear cactus. Several interpretive panels along the route describe the history and fauna of the area, including bats. At about the 1.5-mile mark, the trail descends to a steel-railed bridge that crosses the San Dieguito River and enters a riparian area paralleling the riverbed. Although it is a riverbed, you will probably see no more than a couple of stagnant pools among the many large granitic boulders. There is enough water, however, to support groupings of coast live oaks and various species of willow.

One of the historic highlights of the trail is the Hodges Flume along the north side of the gorge (to the left as you proceed to the dam). It is not used today but was once a gravity water transporter to the San Dieguito Reservoir, four miles to the west.

The trail is undoubtedly at its best after some rain, which should provide some water flow in the river and awaken the coast chaparral and riparian plants that might come into flower. The only drawback of this hike is the background vehicle noise from the Del Dios Highway.

Del Dios Gorge

The Rattlesnake Viewing Platform is the turnaround point and a good spot for lunch or a snack. The platform was named not for any rattlesnakes in the area but rather for the native rock that was shaped into the form of a rattlesnake. Here there is an interpretive panel that explains the place of rattlesnakes in the ecosystem, a burned “dead” black oak tree on the platform that addresses the impacts of wildfires, and a sculpture with a pipe ring scope that lines up features at the dam, including the spillway, the bulwarks, and the river below. The view from this point is the concrete-arch Lake Hodges Dam (see 2/14/13 “Roam-O-Rama”), which impounds the San Dieguito River. After taking in the views and resting, return to the parking lot along the same route.

There is also parking along Del Dios Highway just above the dam viewing area. Parking there is limited and entry there would access the trail from this point.


Distance from downtown San Diego: 30 miles. Allow 50 minutes driving time. From CA-163N, take I-805N to I-5N and exit east on Via de la Valle after 20.5 miles. Drive east on Via de la Valle, which is SR-6. SR-6 has several name changes heading east, beginning with Via de la Valle, then Paseo Delicias and finally Del Dios Hwy. It is 13 miles from I-5 on SR-6 to Calle Ambiente. After passing Calle Ambiente, turn in at the “Lemon Twist” fruit stand on the right. There is a road marked with an “SDRP” (San Diego River Park) sign that leads to the parking area.

Hiking length: 4.5 miles out and back.

Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss 200 feet. The trail runs parallel to Del Dios Highway. The gravel parking lot at the start of the trail provides parking for about a dozen vehicles. Be prepared to share the trail with runners, dogs, mountain bikers, and maybe equestrians. No facilities or water.

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An iron bridge spans Del Dios Gorge.
An iron bridge spans Del Dios Gorge.
Del Dios Gorge overlook to Lake Hodges Dam

This trail is part of the Coast to Crest Trail of the San Dieguito River Park. The 70-mile planned Coast to Crest Trail will extend one day from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the shore at Del Mar. Del Dios Gorge is within this planned area, but only part of it is accessible. Del Dios Gorge is partly inundated by the Lake Hodges Reservoir created in 1918 on completion of the Lake Hodges Dam.

Start of the Del Dios trail

Different plant communities are found along the Del Dios trail. From the parking area, head east toward the dam. The plants found on the early part of the trail are common to the coastal chaparral habitat, including sagebrush, white sage, and some large coast prickly pear cactus. Several interpretive panels along the route describe the history and fauna of the area, including bats. At about the 1.5-mile mark, the trail descends to a steel-railed bridge that crosses the San Dieguito River and enters a riparian area paralleling the riverbed. Although it is a riverbed, you will probably see no more than a couple of stagnant pools among the many large granitic boulders. There is enough water, however, to support groupings of coast live oaks and various species of willow.

One of the historic highlights of the trail is the Hodges Flume along the north side of the gorge (to the left as you proceed to the dam). It is not used today but was once a gravity water transporter to the San Dieguito Reservoir, four miles to the west.

The trail is undoubtedly at its best after some rain, which should provide some water flow in the river and awaken the coast chaparral and riparian plants that might come into flower. The only drawback of this hike is the background vehicle noise from the Del Dios Highway.

Del Dios Gorge

The Rattlesnake Viewing Platform is the turnaround point and a good spot for lunch or a snack. The platform was named not for any rattlesnakes in the area but rather for the native rock that was shaped into the form of a rattlesnake. Here there is an interpretive panel that explains the place of rattlesnakes in the ecosystem, a burned “dead” black oak tree on the platform that addresses the impacts of wildfires, and a sculpture with a pipe ring scope that lines up features at the dam, including the spillway, the bulwarks, and the river below. The view from this point is the concrete-arch Lake Hodges Dam (see 2/14/13 “Roam-O-Rama”), which impounds the San Dieguito River. After taking in the views and resting, return to the parking lot along the same route.

There is also parking along Del Dios Highway just above the dam viewing area. Parking there is limited and entry there would access the trail from this point.


Distance from downtown San Diego: 30 miles. Allow 50 minutes driving time. From CA-163N, take I-805N to I-5N and exit east on Via de la Valle after 20.5 miles. Drive east on Via de la Valle, which is SR-6. SR-6 has several name changes heading east, beginning with Via de la Valle, then Paseo Delicias and finally Del Dios Hwy. It is 13 miles from I-5 on SR-6 to Calle Ambiente. After passing Calle Ambiente, turn in at the “Lemon Twist” fruit stand on the right. There is a road marked with an “SDRP” (San Diego River Park) sign that leads to the parking area.

Hiking length: 4.5 miles out and back.

Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss 200 feet. The trail runs parallel to Del Dios Highway. The gravel parking lot at the start of the trail provides parking for about a dozen vehicles. Be prepared to share the trail with runners, dogs, mountain bikers, and maybe equestrians. No facilities or water.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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