Black Mountain is an open space park in the heart of rural San Diego. The area features over a dozen hiking trails in chaparral and riparian habitat.

Hiking Black Mountain Open Space Park

In the heart of rural San Diego there are over 2,352 acres of open coastal chaparral habitat rising over 1500 feet in elevation. This area is known as the Black Mountain Open Space Park. The park features nearly twenty-five miles of hiking trails and a peak similar to other peaks such as Cowle’s Mountain. The area is managed by the City of San Diego and is open every day from dawn to dusk.

Geologically, Black Mountain is part of an area called the Poway Quadrant. This area is known for a series of rocky peaks composed of volcanic and sedimentary rocks. These peaks make up several other popular hiking areas such as Mount Woodson (Potato Chip Rock) and Iron Mountain. The habitat surrounding black mountain is mostly coastal chaparral with a few riparian habitats that house more than 80 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles. 

There are many hiking entrances available for hiking Black Mountain. This trail focuses on the nighthawk and miner’s ridge route which is 6.5 miles in length. The access point for this route begins in the Hilltop Community Park in Rancho Penasquitos. This is one of the longer ways up to the top of Black Mountain. Shorter options are available. For a complete list of trail entrances please check out the official trail map.  For additional park information contact the County of San Diego at 858-538-8020.

On A Personal Note

This hike is similar to most coastal peaks in Southern California. I’ve driven by this peak enough times that it was finally time for me to check out the views from the top of this trail. The longer trail options in this park make for some nice panoramic views surrounding San Diego County. From the top other nearby peaks can be seen such as Palomar Mountain and Cuyamaca Peak. On a clear day Catalina Island can be seen and during the winter months snow-capped San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and Mount Baldy can be seen.

My trail distance ended up being longer than the posted distance. I thought that I could cut across the peak based off older map models. These trails have been closed and are no longer open. For more information please see the trail conditions tab. 

Have you recently done this hike? Please post your photos in or leave an update to the trail conditions in the comments section.

  • Overall Difficulty: 60% 60%
  • Overall Views: 70% 70%
Black Mountain Peak Trail Quick Facts:
  • Estimated Distance:  6.4 miles.
  • My Distance: 7.1 miles.
  • Total Elevation: 1,554 feet.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,187 feet.
  • Estimated Time: 2-4.5 hours.
  • My Time: 2 hours 46 minutes moving; 3 hours 20  minutes total. 
Black Mountain Peak Trail Directions:
Open in maps. This trail access is for the nighthawk trail entrance. The entrance is in the Hilltop Community Park. Black Mountain Open Space Preserve is open from dawn to dusk. There are many trail access points to Black Mountain peak. For other entrance points, please check out the offical trail map from the County of San Diego. 
Black Mountain Peak Trail Pictures:
Who Black Mountain Peak Is For:
Novice Hikers: This is a great area for novice hikers. There several short trail options that lead to the top. The service road and the nighthawk trail minus the miner’s ridge portion are one of the shortest routes. The longer routes to the top are a great way for novice hikers to test their ability on longer trails.

Advanced Hikers: For being so close to the city, the nighthawk and miner’s ridge trail is a good option for those who consider themselves advanced hikers. Black Mountain is a great city trail to check off the list of common San Diego peaks.

Expert Hikers: If you live anywhere near central San Diego County seeing this peak on a regular basis will undoubtedly draw you to hike this peak. Expert hikers won’t find this trail challenging by any means. However, it will leave you the satisfaction of completing a popular San Diego peak.

It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.

Best Time Of Year To Hike Black Mountain Peak:
To get the most out of this trail, visit this area from mid-winter to mid-spring. The winter rains light up the hills with green and usher in vibrant wildflowers. By mid-spring it’s not uncommon to see large purple swaths of lilac and coastal sunflowers.

During the summer, exceptionally hot days should be avoided on this trial. The distance is mild enough to do in the earlier hours or near dusk on most summer months. There is very little shade along the path.

It’s always a good idea to check the weather prior to hiking.

Black Mountain Peak Trail Conditions:
This trail is very well maintained by the County of San Diego and local volunteers. Most of the trail is made up of loose soil but a small swath of the trail has loose rocks along the utility road. Rattlesnakes are common. I did not personally see any poison oak along the trail. However, the miner’s ridge portion of the trail lies on the northeast facing side of Black Mountain and gets less sunlight. There are a couple of riparian areas there where it could be possible for poison oak to reside.

It is possible to hike Black Mountain in about three and a half miles. As mentioned, this trail focuses on the nighthawk and miner’s ridge route. This route is essentially formed by two loop trails for an approximate distance of 6.5 miles.

There are several older trails that wind through Black Mountain that are no longer useable. If you’re looking at the AllTrails app be sure not to think that you can shorten your route by taking a different route to the top. I thought that I could cut through the secondary summit and then go to the main peak after that. Those routes are no longer accessible. For this reason my actual trail distance was longer than what is posted as the trail distance.

On returning to Hilltop Community Park, this trail does wind through a neighborhood in Rancho Penasquitos. please be respectful of the people who live in the area.