Nighthawk Trail to Black Mountain Overview
Nighthawk Trail is a great local San Diego hike to the top of Black Mountain Peak which sits at 1,554 feet in elevation. Black Mountain Peak in San Diego may not be the highest peak but it has incredible views of the ocean and is a fairly accessible trail for most!
The Nighthawk Trail straight to the top of Black mountain is just under 4 miles round trip. I looked at the map on Caltopo and planned a just under 5 mile loop. Unfortunately we ended up hitting some closed trails and the loop I planned was not actually possible. The first closed trail had another trail that was opened to get around but the trail we planned to take to the peak was closed and we had to backtrack all the way back to Nighthawk trail to make it to the top of Black Mountain. All the routes discussed and closed sections are detailed on the map in the next section.
Nighthawk Trail Black Mountain Map
- Green: This is Nighthawk Trail which will bring you straight up to the top of Black Mountain in under 4 miles round trip.
- Blue: This was my planned loop that didn't work out...
- Red: The red blocks are closed trails you can not use, which is why we had to back track back to Nighthawk Trail to get to the top of Black Mountain.
The Caltopo map above can be viewed and downloaded here. The parking lot for Nighthawk Trail can be found on Google maps here.
Nighthawk Trail Black Mountain Trail Guide
The Nighthawk Trail starts out right next to Hilltop Community Park which is nice because they have a big parking lot with plenty of parking. We had no issues finding parking here, but if the Hilltop Community Park lot is full, there looked to be plenty of places to park along the street leading up to the Nighthawk Trail start.
The beginning of Nighthawk Trail looks not super nice with all the power lines, but don't let this discourage you from taking this hike. The trail was beautiful and offered beautiful views.
ℹ️ Gear Recommendations
If you would like expert gear recommendations for your next adventure check out the Seek Adventure Gear Locker. I detail why each item has a spot in my backpack!
The trail starts out very wide and pretty well maintained. There is an initial incline, but it levels out to a pretty moderate incline for most of the hike. The trail doesn't really get steep, until you get to the intersection of Nighthawk and Miners Ridge Loop.
We went on this hike just after a fair amount of rain in San Diego and all the green shrubs were looking nice and healthy. Going just after some rain was also a fantastic decision for us because there were some beautiful clouds in the area still which made for some amazing views.
Remember all the power lines at the start of the hike? At this point in the hike things start to feel much more remote and you can feel the escape of nature!
Eventually you will come to the intersection of Nighthawk Trail and Miner's Ridge Loop. At this point if you don't want to take the detour that we took, you can continue up Nighthawk Trail and head straight towards the summit. Unfortunately the loop I originally planned won't Bring you to the summit of Black Mountain but it is a really pretty detour if you don't mind a little bit longer of a hike.
The intersection in the above picture is located at the yellow circle on the map below. If you follow the sign to stay on Nighthawk trail to go straight to the summit you will be following the green trail to the summit. For the next part of this guide though we are going to take a slight detour and follow the blue line to the secondary Summit, then backtrack to this intersection and then go to the summit of Black Mountain.
One thing to note on the map below is the red rectangle showing a closed trail just north of the secondary summit, that trail is close but the trail on the map that goes around is open, and you can take that to the secondary summit.
If you decide to take the detour on the Miner's Ridge Loop, the trail begins to narrow pretty quickly and feels more remote than the Nighthawk Trail.
There are no sweeping views of the ocean along Miner's Ridge Loop as it runs toward the Secondary Summit, but trail wise this was our favorite part of the hike. It just felt more remote and there were less people on it. You can still see the antennas at the top of Black Mountain as we circle around the backside on this trail.
After reading a plaque about some of the local plants on this hike, I would like to go back and try this trail again in May or June when the Chamise plants white flowers bloom!
As we eventually got to the Secondary Summit, this was when we realized we couldn't climb up to the peak of Black Mountain. We saw a fence with a sign that said "Not a Trail Please Keep Out" in front of our planned route to the top!
If anyone knows why this trail is closed, I would love to know. It looked like a pretty wide fire break straight to the summit! Since we couldn't go up this route we stopped on the secondary summit for some water and discussed going back to the car, but decided we came this far and might as well hike to the top while we are here, and I am glad we did! We just first had to hike all the way back to the intersection of Miner's Loop Trail and Nighthawk Trail.
Once back on Nighthawk Trail the trail widens again and circulates up the west side of Black Mountain to the peak. It's on this part of the trail you are treated to the sweeping views west toward the ocean!
Once you get to the top of Black Mountain there is a wooden sign congratulating your efforts but the real treat is the view! Make sure to bring a snack and take some time to relax at the top and just take it all in!
On the way down, we ended up just following Nighthawk Trail all the way back to the parking lot.
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