Overview: Kayaking Lake Hodges Reservoir
My wife and I decided to drive inland away from the San Diego Coast for a kayaking adventure. We wanted to check out one of the freshwater reservoirs in with our Pakayaks.
Lake Hodges was created in 1918 when the Hodges Dam was built on San Dieguito Creek. When full, Lake Hodges has over 27 miles of coastline and is a beautiful spot to be on the water!
Lake Hodges is a fun lake to kayak on, because it's not perfectly round. I personally find perfectly round lakes a little boring to paddle in. Lake Hodges is long and meanders through some rolling hills. It is kind of narrow in parts which makes it a fun and interesting paddle.
Lake Hodges has two main veins on either side of Fletcher Point, going east and west. My wife and I decided to break this paddle up into separate paddles on two different days. Day one we paddled the east vein and day two we paddled the west vein. If you woke up early and are a decent paddler you could paddle the whole lake in one day. The afternoons definitely get a bit breezy so be prepared for that if you are not a strong paddler.
Lake Hodges is not open all year or every day of the week, I highly recommend you check out their official website for current rules and regulations if you are planning your own trip!
Arriving at Lake Hodges
My wife and I pushed off at the boat ramp/sandy beach near the Lake Hodges Visitors Center. In the map below the visitor parking area is marked by a blue square and the sandy beach to push off from is marked in an orange rectangle:
ℹ️ Gear Recommendations
Check out the Ten Digit Grid Gear Locker for expert gear recommendations for your next adventure, including detailed descriptions of why each item belongs in your pack.
To kayak at Lake Hodges you need to pay for a permit. When we were there the permits were only $2 per kayak. It's not an expensive trip, but make sure you have some cash on hand in order to get the permits.
The first time we arrived, we parked and went into the Visitors Center and tried to pay for permits, but this is actually not where you pay. There is a small self service kiosk in between the visitors center and boat launch area right under a tree.
The Kiosk can be found under the tree circled in yellow:
After you pay for your day kayaking permit, you can drive down to the sandy beach and unload your gear. You can not keep your car parked here, as this area is strictly for unloading. After unloading, you need to drive back towards the visitors center, park the the large parking lot, then walk back to the beach. Since my wife and I have Pakayaks, there was enough room for us to set our kayaks up right by the launch point.
Lake Hodges Kayaking Map
The red line on the map below was our course for day one when we explored the eastern vein of Lake Hodges. The blue line on the map below is day 2, where we explored the western vein of Lake Hodges. The dam that makes Lake Hodges is at the end of the Western vein.
The map above can be viewed and downloaded on Caltopo here.
Day 1: Kayaking Lake Hodges Eastern Vein
The boat launch at Lake Hodges can sometimes be busy. The launch is a mix of individuals launching kayaks, small motor boats and kite surfers. We didn't have to really wait and were able to squeeze in, but it definitely can be busy here.
Despite the busyness at the launch site, out on the water it was fantastic. Whenever we have gone out on Lake Hodges, we only encountered a handful of quiet fishing boats. We have been on other reservoirs in the past that have a lot of people blasting loud music while they pull skiers or wake boarders but that was not our experience here.
Once we had our Pakayak kayaks assembled we pushed off into a very windy day out on the lake.
Pushing off from the beach we turned our kayaks towards the east which was left from the push off point.
Following the east vein of Lake Hodges the waterway quickly narrows as the route squeezes between two beautiful peaks.
As we kayaked close to shore we saw multiple families hiking the waterfront trails and some dogs playing in the water. Watching dogs play in the water from a kayak is always entertaining. Dogs in the water are always intrigued by the floating kayak and want to investigate.
Towards the end of the eastern vein Lake Hodges, the lake curves north east and quickly becomes very shallow. At this point each stroke of the paddle would disturb the mud under the kayak creating black clouds in the water.
After exploring pretty much all of the East vein of Lake Hodges, we turned our kayaks around and started heading back towards the boat launch. As we headed back there were even less boats on the water with the sun starting to hang low in the sky slowly setting behind Fletcher point.
After a fine first day of paddling on Lake Hodges we kayaked 5.42 miles and enjoyed every inch of water. As we packed up, we were already planning our return trip to finish exploring the rest of Lake Hodges.
Day 2: Kayaking Lake Hodges Western Vein
Just about two weeks later we were able to make time to get back to Lake Hodges and explore the Western vein. For this trip we had a new piece of outdoor gear to test that was not actually related to kayaking at all. We recently got a couple of G.O.A.T. Totes from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I never thought I would need a 70L tote bag, but it was absolutely the perfect way to haul all our kayak gear.....Life vests, kayak skirts, bilge pump, sponge, water shoes, water bottles, and GoPro Gear. Despite all that gear we still had a lot of extra room in the tote.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear G.O.A.T. Tote comes in three sizes, a 20L, 30L and this one is the huge 70L! I plan on doing a full review of them in the near future.
Day 2 at Lake Hodges was beautiful. Perfect San Diego temperatures with nice big fluffy clouds which are a bit rare here in San Diego.
For day 2 we left from the same launch location as we did for day one, but instead of immediately turning left to explore the eastern vein we hugged the coast to our right and made a big arc around Fletcher Point.
I don't know if it was just the day we went or if the eastern vein is more popular for fishing, but other than just a few boats passing by here and there it felt as if we had the entire western vein of Lake Hodges all to ourselves. It was a perfectly peaceful day out on the water!
Our goal for the second day was to make it all the way to the end of the western vein. The western vein is where the Hodges Dam is located which makes Lake Hodges.
As we slowly paddled toward Lake Hodges Dam I tried not to think about its history.....its long history. The Hodges Dam was completed in 1918! If my math serves me right the dam at the time of our kayaking trip was 104 years old! So basically we were trusting a 104 year old dam to hold all the water in place and not break while we were kayaking on it 😉
Fortunately it was a very scenic kayak trip and the beauty around me quickly took my mind off the age of the dam, so I was able to enjoy every stroke as I took it all in.
As we got close to the Hodges Dam, we crossed over and followed along the southern coast. There were some huge rocks and large cliffs we wanted to check out. Most of Lake Hodges coast was pretty sandy and low but at this point near the dam there were large cliffs and we just paddled right up to them which was amazing.
Shortly after the stoney cliffs you will arrive at the Hodges Dam. You can not get too close to it, as they have a protective barrier to keep you away.
You can see the dam behind us in the picture below:
At this point it was time to start heading back to the boat launch. The wind was slowly picking up throughout the afternoon and was blowing pretty good. Luckily for us it was blowing in the direction we wanted to go. We kept our kayaks next to each other "pontoon style" and just continued chit chatting while the wind effortlessly slowly pushed us back towards the boat launch!
Our day 2 paddle ended up being slightly longer than day one, coming in at 5.61 miles total. Lake Hodges is a fantastic place to get away for a few hours of relaxing paddling and we will definitely be back!