Morena Butte Hike – San Diego

San Diego, CA

We recently moved from Santee, CA to Mission Bay RV Park, about twenty miles to the west.  The park is right on Mission Bay just a few miles from the ocean.  We booked one of the sites that back up to the bay for a month so we can enjoy the great sunsets over the water.  Also, our daughter, Jessica, is flying in for a visit over the holidays, so we are conveniently located near the airport.

Our friends, Hans and Lisa, are still back in Santee but will also be moving to Mission Bay in January.  Hans and Lisa are former residents of San Diego and have extensive hiking experience in the area, so we love to take advantage of their experience and guidance on some of the best local trails.  Recently we picked them up near Santee and drove east on I-8 into the mountains to tackle one of their favorites, the Morena Butte Trail.

The trailhead for this hike is located at the entrance to Lake Morena State Park, just south of I-8 about fifty miles east of San Diego.  The hike begins on a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.  The PCT is a trail that goes from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, a distance of about 2,663 miles.  It is the trail featured in the new movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon (although the main character in the movie started up near Los Angeles and hiked north).

The trail quickly gains elevation providing views of the land covered by Lake Morena.

Hans, Lisa, and John with the main section of Morena Lake in the background

Can you see the lake in the background in the picture above?  OK, so there is no water visible.  Morena Lake is really a reservoir created by a dam built in 1912 as part of San Diego’s water system.  It is one of the few facilities in the San Diego water supply system that relies entirely on local runoff, and lately that runoff has been a bit sparse.  In fact, today the reservoir is only at 3% of capacity.  We’ll look at the lake from a higher position later in this blog, so hold on to that thought.

Climbing up to the top of the Morena Butte

After about three miles we left the PCT and headed up a narrow trail headed for the top of Morena Butte.

We spotted a Manatee enjoying the sunshine

OK, remember the discussion of the lake earlier in the blog (go back and re-read it if you need to, no one will know!).  The picture below is a view of the lake from on top of the butte.  Water is now clearly visible, but this is only a small section of the reservoir near the dam.  The large, flat area above the water, in the center of the photo, should be filled with water also.

The main reason the lake is so low is that the city of San Diego owns the water and decided to let most of the water run out of the lake and down to a treatment plant, then in to the city’s drinking water supply.  This is cheaper than purchasing water from the Colorado River and saved the city five million dollars.  But the County of San Diego owns a state park by the reservoir and is not to happy that the lake, a fishing and recreation attraction, is pretty much gone!

Lunch on Morena Butte

While searching for a plaque that was suppose to be on the butte, Hans found a Geocache canister hidden at the very top.  Some readers may be saying, “He found a what?”  A bit of information may clear things up for you.

Geocaching is an activity where people use a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver  and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, anywhere in the world.  A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook (with a pen or pencil).  The geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name.  After signing the log, the cache must be placed back exactly where the person found it.  Since we were not “geocaching,” Hans just returned the container back where he found it.

The hike back down provided some great vistas and great rock scrambling.

After descending back down to lake level we passed by an old foundation with a chimney that is still standing.  It made us wonder what was originally located there.

We continued on a dirt road along the lake for about 2 miles to get back to the trail head. On the way we passed through the Morena Lake Park and Campgrounds and came upon the Hatfield Plaque that sits near the entrance of the park.

Hans and Lisa rate this as one of their top five in the San Diego area.  We think it is the best hike we have done in our two visits to San Diego.

We have a visitor from the east (i.e. our daughter, Jessica) arriving in a week, so we’ll spend the next few days checking out some things to do and see in the area during her visit.

More on that later . . .

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31 Responses to Morena Butte Hike – San Diego

  1. You made me look twice with your Manatee comment but you are right it did look like one! It is a shame to see the water so low in the reservoir. You don’t realize how much water that really is until you see it from the top like that.

    Have a great Christmas and visit with your daughter!

  2. Sherry says:

    Great post!. Looks like a wonderful hike. Super views! I’ve done pieces of the Appalachian Trail in the east and would love to do some of the PCT. Sure hope the recent rains will help the reservoir but not quite to the extent in 1916. Love the “enhance moisture” job title. Our daughter Carrie is coming in today. Isn’t it great to have them visit on the road? Hope your time with Jessica is grand! Beautiful sunset. Sounds like you are in for quite a few of those.

  3. pmbweaver says:

    You two are so sly. I looked and looked and looked for that game lake in that picture. I even zoomed in. I will get you for this.

    We have never done a Geocache either. We have talked about it. But just have not gotten into it.

    I think your visitor from the east would love this hike. The views are amazing. Another really cute selfie!

    • placestheygo says:

      John can be quite tricky!

      We’ve talked about looking into Geocaching,too, but never get any further than talk:)

      Glad you enjoyed our selfie! It did turn out great with all of us laughing.

  4. jcgc50 says:

    That hike is going on our list. One of these days we need to spend some time in the San Diego area.

  5. Gay says:

    What a beautiful sunset…love your new spot.
    And a hike to die for! How great to have Hans and Lisa there.
    If you have time, you should go to the Little Italy Farmers Market…it is the best market we have seen Pam. It is open every Saturday from 8:00 – 2:00. I sure hope the red walnuts are in season…they are so good!

    • placestheygo says:

      I checked out the Little Italy Farmers Market but decided today probably wasn’t a good idea with the approaching holiday. But I will be checking it out after Christmas, for sure. Thanks for the suggestion, Gay!

  6. RJRVtravels says:

    What fun… Hi to Hans and Lisa. Have a great time with Jessica. Merry Christmas!

  7. Ingrid says:

    How wonderful to have friends share in some awesome hiking. I love stumbling across those plaques sharing tidbits of history. Enjoy Jessica’s visit and have a very Merry Christmas.

    • placestheygo says:

      It is good to be back and finally do some hiking with Hans and Lisa!

      I know you understand how excited I am about Jessica arriving:) I am looking forward to some great mother/daughter time!

      Merry Christmas to you and Al!

  8. The group selfie on the summit is cute! What a fun day we had, I’m so glad we could share this gem of a hike with you two!

  9. I agree with Lisa, that selfie of all you smiling shows how you are enjoying your selves and the hike.
    I just noticed Pam that you are now hiking with a stick. How do you like it? Would you recommend it if hiking with elevation and mountains?

  10. Jodee Gravel says:

    What a lovely area, even with the “little” lake. I didn’t have to go back and read the part about the water, but only because John said there would be a test on it (good teacher)! I love the pic of John and Hans. And of course the selfie captures the joy perfectly. How fun to have Jessica “home” for the holiday. In addition to the great hikes and beach, I enjoy the touristy Seaport Village for a change – it’s especially beautiful at Christmas. Best chai-latte in the world is at the bookstore The Upstart Crow, and both the hat store and the Christmas store are worth a gander 🙂 Buy a kite and fly it in the park next door while watching the sailboats go by…….it’s pretty sweet. Have a Merry, Merry Christmas!

  11. LuAnn says:

    Until this visit to So. Cal I didn’t realize there was so much hiking to be done in the area. Looks like a wonderful hike. Love the selfie of the four of you. Have a wonderful visit with Jessica and a very Merry Christmas. 🙂

  12. Laurel says:

    Another beautiful hike — I’m putting it on our list for when we visit San Diego in February. It’s wonderful having you and Hans and Lisa as our travel guides. 🙂 Love the group selfie! You all look great. You piqued my interest with your mention of Hatfield the Rainmaker so I read up on him. He was quite the character! Wishing you a wonderful holiday celebrating with your daughter. 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      It was probably the best hike we’ve done in this area, Laurel. That is a very interesting story about Hatfield the Rainmaker. Maybe CA should think about it again:) Happy Holidays!

  13. Love the manatee rock, love the selfie – what a fearsome foursome! We arrive at Mission Bay on the 1st of February, seems like we might be crossing paths somewhere along the way.
    Merry Christmas Pam and John!

  14. Rick Doyle says:

    Terrific photos – again!

    Merry Christmas to you both and hope you have a wonderful day!

  15. Nancy says:

    What fabulous hiking you are doing! The views on top and the rocks and boulders are amazing. Enjoy your time with your daughter. Happy New Year!

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