One of San Diego’s great hikes is the so called Ho Chi Minh Trail that goes down the cliffs from the wealthy La Jolla suburbs to the beach several hundred feet below. This trail is often described as secluded and dangerous. Actually, it is quite popular and not really that dangerous. Most descriptions imply have you walk down and walk back up. This is our guide to a 1.6 Ho Chi Minh Trail loop that goes along Black’s Beach.
Starting Point: 9882 La Jolla Farms Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037
Length: 1.6 miles
Elevation: about 300 ft gain and loss
The first thing to note is that Black’s Beach is San Diego’s official nude beach. However, there are more clothed people and this hike only goes to the start of the clothing optional area. I am surprised at how many families with children are in this area. Personally this is an adults only hike, but not for the difficulty.
The hike starts in the well to-do La Jolla Farms neighborhood. Houses here routinely go for over $10 million. The trail is easy to find right beside a house where there is a sign and two fences that separate the trail from the houses. There is plenty of free parking around 9883 La Jolla Farms Rd.
Supposedly the trail was named by surfers in the 1960s during the height of the Vietnam War. Of course, the actual Ho Chi Minh Trail played a key role in supplying the North Vietnamese during the war. Given its infamous history there are many people that want the name changed. Recently the trail has been showing up on Google as the La Jolla Trail or the Saigon Trail.
The actual hike is extremely short and not nearly as difficult as many sites claim. You start a steep descent as the trail bears to the left. Straight ahead you will see a trail that climbs up to bluff. You will be coming back on this trail. Ahead to your right you will see the Torrey Pines Gliderport. This will be another stop on the way back.
At a split in the road you will see a couple of two by fours that bridge a gap. The one to your right, that goes to an uphill trail, you will cross on your way back. Going down you will cross the one straight ahead. This may seem intimidating but if you don’t want to walk across the plank you can just walk through the gap which is only about 3 feet.
Keep continuing downhill and you will come to the next cool feature. This is a narrow squeeze between two sandstone rocks. It is not difficult, but I did scrape myself on the side of the rock. There are lots of cool sandstone formations, but this is the only one you have to climb through.
As you get closer to the beach the trail does narrow along some ravines. These ravines are never really more than 10 feet deep but you do need to watch your step. This trail can be very slippery as you go downhill.
The last part to the beach is probably the most famous part. It involves rappelling about 20 feet down a rope tied to a tree. It sounds scary than it really is. Going down, and even climbing back up, the rope is no problem if you have made it this far.
Fun Diego Family 360: A short video of the rope climb
Once on the beach, you are going to turn right and head north up the coast. Another option would be to go south and climb up the service road that takes you back to La Jolla Farm Rd. We take that route in one of our hikes. However, the much more scenic loop is to head less than a mile down the beach to the main trail from the Gliderport to Black’s Beach.
The trail down to Black’s Beach is easy to find. We have described it in several of our hikes in the area. It is a steep climb up rough staircases carved in the cliffs. It is not a hard climb, but the high, uneven steps on the stairs can leave your quads very sore the next day.
When you reach the top, you will head to the right and walk along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. This means walking past a sign warning you to stay back. The trail at this point is wide and flat so it is not dangerous as long as you don’t try and go off the trail.
A short distance after going past a second warning sign you will reach the end of the bluff. At this point, you head to the left, down the trail that was prominent at the start of the hike. This trail takes you back to the two by four which crosses back to where you came down.
The part right before you cross the two by fours is probably the steepest section of the entire trail. Once again it is not bad, just use caution. As you climb up the trail you will reach a fork. To go back to the start bear to the right.
Overall this is a very scenic hike that provides a decent workout. It can easily be done in a hour but you are likely to spend a lot of time stopping to enjoy the view. The Gliderport is also a fun hang out to spend sometime before heading back.
It goes without saying that this is not a good hike to do after it rains. Of course, never try it at night. Most injuries occur when people go at these bad times or when they try and go off the trail. Otherwise, the Ho Chi Minh is pretty safe hike.