Black Mountain, Penasquitos Area, San Diego, CA

See Jerry Schad's Hiking Guide to Black Mountain for directions, a map and hike directions. Note that this pre-1992 guide is to the trailhead at the parking area on the north side of Black Mountain, whereas his 1986 Afoot and Afield in San Diego County uses a trailhead on the west side, at Westvale Road.

Directions. From Fallbrook, it is almost the same time to take Rancho Bernardo Road to Black Mountain Road to the trailhead (35 miles, 47') as to take I-15 to SR56 (Ted Williams Freeway) to Black Mountain Road (39 miles, 48'). However, there is more dirt road driving via Rancho Bernardo Road, so if you don't like driving dirt roads, go the SR56 way, which still involves a short amount of dirt road.

Update on 1/8/08 from an anonymous reader: There is a paved road right up to it now. You take Bernardo Center Dr off I-15 west until you get there. Or you can take Carmel Valley Road north from SR56 until you get there. The road up to Black Mountain Park and the parking lot haven't improved any though.

Date of my hike. 27 August 1998

There were oodles of large white fluffball seeds floating in the area, and I discovered their source just before the parking area. There were literally fields of thistles that almost looked like sunflowers full of fluffball seeds. I talked to someone parked further down the road who told me that this was a very unusual year to have so many thistles.

The "trailhead" is not like your usual trailhead. The parking lot is a depressing place. In addition to trash strewn about, an axle with differential sitting there, glass littered about, black areas where bonfires had burned, etc., there was a full-size couch hanging from the sign that said "closed sunset to sunrise"! If I had been a single female, I wouldn't have stayed to hike. When I returned near sunset, there were two cars each with couples in them that clearly weren't hikers.

Following Schad's directions, I took the "trail" from the parking area on the north side of Black Mountain. Either Schad considers a full-size dirt road a trail, or things have changed since he last hiked the area. There is a bewildering variety of dirt roads in the area, many of which interconnect. It is difficult to figure out just which road to take, but in the end I bet most of them join up. I figured out that the reason someone had mounted the couch on the sign was to be able to see the location of the parking lot from the dirt roads, and at least know what general direction to head in!

Perhaps the fundamental reason for confusion amongst the roads is that dirt bikers have been everywhere on Black Mountain. When I hiked, there were two dirt bikers roaring around the roads near the parking lot. I was somewhat concerned that I might meet a dirt biker when the trail actually became a trail later, with many blind corners. It wouldn't have been a pleasant encounter unless the dirt biker was going very slowly.

I tried to follow Schad's directions, but there were far more roads than in his directions. Furthermore, there were essentially none of the signs that Schad mentioned to guide me. Worse, farther along the trail, dirt bikers (my guess, since no hiker would do this) had switched two of the signs, so if one wasn't careful to follow dirt bike tracks, one would leave the trail.

There was no "narrow path" that left from the dirt road that I was on, so after the road started descending heading away from Black Mountain, I decided to take one of the dirt roads that ascended steeply. After 0.5 mile (0.7 mile counting false explorations of roads), a trail goes left off the dirt road.

This lower half mile is extremely confusing, and the only way I knew I was on the right road back was to recognize the trash along the way. Finally, soon after the trail starts, the trash stops. However, the dirt biker tracks continue. In fact, I never saw any footprints of hikers at all until 0.5 mile from the top. I followed dirt biker tracks, with a few mountain bike tracks, the entire way, and I am a bit surprised that they were able to negotiate the entire trail, which had several 2' drops and was quite narrow in many places.

I had been wondering just why I was hiking this trash-strewn, dirt road, dirt biker area until I was on the trail for a while. When the trash stopped and the maze of dirt roads left my view, the trail returned to what my expectations of a trail should be: good views, a nice secluded path and some solitude.

You must still pay attention on the trail to other trails coming in. After about a mile, a wider trail comes in from the left. A switched sign that you may notice only on your return since "Black Mountain Trail - Vista Point - 270 Feet" pointing along the trail where I had just come! The sign that should have been there marking the trail was another half mile up the trail. That sign says "Black Mountain Trail - 220 Feet" but it leads one to a dead end. Just follow the dirt bike tracks and you'll be ok.

By the way, the benches that Schad mentions were noplace to be seen.

After 1.5 miles, you meet the dirt road that you take left. Note the view looking back, since the road continues down the mountain, albeit with a blocking rail that can still mostly be seen. A steep climb takes you nearly to the 1376' knoll. The dirt road branches there, with the left branch obviously the right one since Black Mountain is in clear view.

As Schad promised, the dirt road is quite steep, but it is a short trip to the top. The views were indeed great, and I plan to come back in the morning sometime so I can see the west view more clearly. (The forward scattering of sunlight makes it difficult to see in the direction of the sun.)

I had no problem returning the way I had come near the top since I had carefully noted the junctions there. My trip down was fairly pleasant until about halfway down when the sounds of distant gunshots began. I was hoping that there was a shooting range nearby, and that the sounds were not from target shooters near me. The trail had quite a few shotgun shells on it, and some of the trash at the trailhead included a used poster-board target.

I had only a few false starts along the wrong dirt road at the bottom. Again, near the bottom the maze of dirt roads is very confusing, so the trash becomes an asset!

Trip Log

Explanation of column headings

Recording numberMileageTime arrivedTime leftAltitudeComments
00.005:16 750Parking Lot
10.705:37 800Finally hit a trail after confusing series of roads and several false starts
21.956:06 1200Junction road on ridge; went left.
32.406:21 1550North side of top of Black Mountain.
42.50 6:271550South side of top.
53.206:43 1100 =2
63.556:52 1200False sign to left: "Black Mountain Trail - 200 Feet"
73.907:00 1050Trail goes left; wider trail continues on. False sign: "View Point 270 Feet".
84.357:10 950Trail becomes dirt road and trash begins.
94.807:21 800Parking Lot.

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Copyright © 1998 by Tom Chester.
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Last update: 27 August 1998 (road condition update on 1/19/08)