Black Mountain Open Space Park

Enjoy spectacular views from the summit of Black Mountain, along with miles of trails and unspoiled nature at Black Mountain Open Space Park.
Black Mountain Open Space Park
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Discover Black Mountain Open Space Park

Black Mountain Open Space Park is a 2,352-acre park situated on the northern end of the City of San Diego, tucked in the neighborhood of Rancho Peñasquitos. Offering amazing views, over 20 miles of trails and even an abandoned mine, this park is truly a gem!

Black Mountain, the second highest peak in San Diego, is the main attraction and can be seen from all over the city. The 1,554-foot summit is quite scenic, with views of the surrounding mountains and ocean. On a clear day, you can see as far south as Mexico!

Both hikers and bikers flock to Black Mountain to tackle the 2.5-mile trek to the top. With 12 trails that vary in length from 1.9 to 6.5 miles, there is a trail to match every hiker, runner, biker or nature lover. It is also a perfect park for nature seekers that want to check out the native plants and wildlife.

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History of the Park

Early days

Like Cowles Mountain, Black Mountain was part of the Santiago Peak Volcanics. They formed a chain of volcanic islands over 150 million years ago. The mountain was first called Cordero Mountain, after the Spanish soldiers who crossed the area in the 1700s.

Development

The park was a product of development as the I-15 freeway was built in the 1950s. As the Rancho Penasquitos neighborhood grew, the community wanted to preserve open space for recreation and nature.

The City of San Diego acquired the park in 1964 under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. The park continued to grow as the City of San Diego acquired more land and added to the park's boundaries.

In the 1900s, Hilltop Park was built on the side of a flat mesa. It quickly became a central location of the park, offering multiple playgrounds, an indoor area, basketball courts and a track with a fitness circuit. There are also multiple covered gazebos in the area.

Overcoming issues

The Miner's Ridge Loop Trail was closed in January 2017 by the City of San Diego. Black Mountain Mine was found to have high levels of arsenic. The University of San Diego proceeded to do studies on the area and later resolved the issues necessary for the trail to reopen safely in the spring of 2018.

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Nature at Black Mountain Open Space Park

Black Mountain Open Space Park is the ideal location for nature seekers that want to check out native wildlife and plant life. Mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptile’s native to the area all inhabit the park.

Vegetation

The main plant species and vegetation are chaparral and coastal sage scrub plants, found in the north and east sides of the park. The plants found here are lemonade berry, coffee berry, chamise, manzanita, laurel sumac, toyon, and California lilac.

The south and west portions of the park are made up white and black sage, California sagebrush, California buckwheat, and California sunflowers. These areas are not as dense or bright as the chaparral areas because they are much drier.

Birds at Black Mountain

Studies report that over 80 varieties of birds have been seen at the park, including rare species such as California Gnatcatcher, Rufous-crowned sparrow, and Northern harrier.

Wildlife

Mammals of the area come in all sizes! They range from kangaroo rats to mountain lions and bobcats. Reptiles and amphibians also reside here.

Rattlesnakes, Pacific chorus frogs and slender salamanders are some of the more common. Keep your eyes open!

Activities Available at Black Mountain Open Space Park

Black Mountain Open Space Park offers a number of trails for hikers, trail runners, bicyclists and equestrians. There is also an abandoned mine to check out, and a glider port that has been in use since the 1920s. Look out for hang gliders coming down the mountain!

Climb Black Mountain

The 20 miles of trails vary greatly in length and difficulty, winding through dense chaparral covered canyons, riparian areas and grasslands. All the trails center around the heart of the park- Black Mountain.

This mountain is the second tallest peak in San Diego, falling short only to Cowles Mountain. If you’re looking for other hiking opportunities, check out our article on the Best Hikes in San Diego!

If you accept the challenge to reach the summit of Black Mountain, hikers and cyclists will enjoy a picturesque 360-degree view of the surrounding areas. The summit of the park can be found at the end of Oviedo Way near Hilltop Community Park.

Local Tips
Volunteer Opportunities
The City of San Diego offers numerous volunteer opportunities for people to get involved in Black Mountain and other open space parks. Volunteer opportunities include cleanup projects, habitat restoration and trail maintenance projects.

Nighthawk Trail to Black Mountain- voted most popular!

There are many trails in the park that lead to Black Mountain, but the Nighthawk Trail is the most traveled. This is a 3.9-mile trail, which can also be made into a loop by accessing the service roads.

The trailhead starts at Hilltop Park, which can be very muddy after the rain. Restrooms and water and located here- what a bonus!

Then head up the Nighthawk, which is very well marked throughout. When you see the antennae and satellite dishes, Black Mountain's hallmark, you'll know you're almost at the peak!

You can also combine the Nighthawk Trail with the Miner’s Ridge Trail Loop for a 6.5-mile hike or bike ride to the summit. This is a popular trail for mountain bikers, and can be narrow with limited visibility at points, so stay aware of your surroundings!

Miner's Ridge Loop Trail

The Miner's Ridge Loop Trail is a 2.5-mile trail, with many rocks and intersecting trails along the way. You can choose to stay on the loop, or combine with another trail to scale Black Mountain. The trail gets its name from the abandoned arsenic mine, which is located just off the trail.

The mine was used in the 1920s, when there was a demand for arsenic. This mine was also used to search for gold. Although the trail was temporarily closed in 2017-2018 for abnormal arsenic levels, it has since been remedied and is perfectly safe to enjoy.

The dirt and gravel trail is well marked, and climbs uphill on the way out, and downhill on the return. There are wooden fences on either side, and beautiful wildflowers, fragrant sage and chaparral bushes throughout. Watch out for mountain lions- they've been known to enjoy this trail as well!

Rolling Hills Trail

One of the tougher trails at the park is the Rolling Hills trail. It is approximately 6.5 miles through forest-like terrain. The start has a steep incline, and fairly rocky ground. If you attempt this trail make sure to wear good hiking shoes.

Accessible Trail

In 2016, the Jas Arnold Trail for All People was opened. This is an 1,100-foot loop trail that is flat and wide and able to accommodate people in wheelchairs. This trail was named after Rancho Penasquitos resident Jas Arnold, who was passionate about the trail, after he lost his battle with multiple sclerosis.

Mountain Biking

In addition to the Nighthawk Trail, mountain bikers also love the Lilac Miner’s Peak Loop. The trail runs about 8 miles long, and is well marked to help riders navigate through the area.

The trail has rugged ground throughout the trail. It is not only natural terrain, but there are some man-made sections that provide more challenges for the riders. The last part of the accent of the trail, there are lots of loose rocks that make the incline difficult.

The steep trails on decent make for a quick ride. Keep an eye out for large rocks and obstacles throughout the ride.

Horses are welcome too!

Black Mountain is also opened to horses. Equestrian Staging Area and Canyonside Ranch are both located on Black Mountain Rd. From here, you can gain access to the equestrian trails.

Family-friendly

Black Mountain is also tons of fun for kids! Playgrounds are located throughout the park, and there are even a couple of basketball courts at Hilltop Park for those that want to play. Most of the trails also have exercise and stretching areas.

The park also has picnic areas scattered throughout. These are perfect if you want to have a quick lunch together, or even have an outdoor birthday party! Black Mountain is great for the whole family whether it is a quick couple of hours, or an all day exploration.

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Getting to Black Mountain Open Space Park

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Black Mountain Open Space Park is approximately 40 minutes north of downtown San Diego. Since it runs alongside I-5, it is an easy ride from San Diego by taking I-5 North.

You can also take I-805 N to CA-56 E and take the Black Mountain Rd exit. Get off the exit and follow Black Mountain Rd for 3 miles until you get to Laurentius Dr.

The park is accessible from four different entrances. The Black Mountain portion of the park has two main trailheads.

The first trailhead is the Nighthawk Trailhead. To get here, make a right on Oviedo Street and right again on Oviedo Way. Follow the road to the top of the hill and park at Hilltop Community Park.

The other trailhead is the Miner Ridge Loop Trailhead. Head up Black Mountain Road until you reach Carmel Valley Road, then follow Carmel Valley Road for approximately one mile and the entrance is on the right.

Another less popular trailhead can be found in the northwest portion of the park. The San Dieguito Trailhead can be found by following Valley Road towards Camino Del Sur.

Take a right at the light and continue on Camino Del Sur. Once you get to San Dieguito Road, make a left turn and the trailhead will be about a half a mile down on your right.

If you're looking to visit Black Mountain Open Space Park via public transportation, you can check out the bus schedules for routes 20 or 308 from San Diego.

Keep These in Mind When Heading to the Park

Park hours and boundaries

The park is closed at sunset and opens at sunrise. Since the park is within residential areas, please do not trespass on private property.

Prohibited activities

There is no overnight camping or campfires at the park. Alcoholic beverages and glass containers are also prohibited. There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the trails, and firearms and all weapons are strictly prohibited.

Dog-friendly

This is a great park to bring your canine hiking pal. Of course, Fido must remain on a leash that is 8 feet or less. Owners are expected to clean up after their dogs.

Trail etiquette

There are plenty of trails for hikers, runners and mountain bikers alike! Please stay aware while you're on the trails, and exhibit trail etiquette at all times. Mountain bikers' speed should not exceed 10mph, and they should always announce themselves when approaching hikers.

Respect the park

All plants and animals in the park are protected! Collection and destruction of any nature is prohibited. Hunting and defacing of rocks and properties is prohibited. Please stay on designated trails in order to not disturb wildlife and the sensitive habitat. People who litter will be subject to fines.

What to bring

Since there is limited protection from the sun, wear a hat, lightweight clothing, and pack sunblock. Plan to bring plenty of fresh water for yourself, and extra if you're bringing your dog.

Fall in love

Be warned - you may fall in love with Black Mountain! It is much less crowded than other San Diego hiking hot spots, and offers spectacular views, well-marked trails and a variety of nature!

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