San Diego Hikes: Little Black Mountain Loop Trail

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail


Our house backs up to Black Mountain, one of the highest points in the city of San Diego.  As development of the mountain has substantially increased in recent years, the city has set aside a 2,000+ acre portion as Black Mountain Open Space ParkFor more information see our complete guide to the area.  This edition of San Diego Hikes focuses on a specific hike in the park, hiking Little Black Mountain Loop Trail.

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail is now formally known as Little Black Loop Trail.  However, we have always called it Little Black Mountain and that seems more exciting than Little Black Loop.  While this trail is new, it is basically a redesign of trails we have been using for years. 

Starting Point: Hilltop Park, 9748 Oviedo Way San Diego, CA 92129
Length: 3.1 to 5.7 miles
Elevation: 500 ft gain and loss
Type: Out-and-back with loop  

San Diego Hikes

The original trail hike went straight up what we call little Black Mountain and straight along the ridgeline.  The new trail goes around Little Black Mountain and also offers two optional spin-off trails.  These loop trails replace the former out-and-back ridgeline hikes.  From Hilltop Park and back the basic Little Black Loop Trail is 3.1 miles long. However, there are several add-on options to make it longer.

Like several hikes in the park, Little Black Loop starts at Hilltop Park.  The first 0.6 miles follows our basic introductory trail.  It is an initial 150-foot climb followed by a fairly flat section.  When you come to a turn with a short downhill section you will come to the split off for the official start of the trail. 

Heading right down a steep gully will out you on Little Black Loop.  Heading left (actually straight) takes you to Nighthawk Trail.  Nighthawk Trail goes to the top of the mountain.  Later in the hike there is an opportunity to meet up with Nighthawk Trail and go to the top of the mountain.  That combination is one of our more epic hikes we do occasionally.  For a 4-mile hike that goes to the top and comes down via a small portion of Little Black Loop see our Nighthawk Trail to Black Mountain Peak guide.

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Little Black Loop turns right at 0.6 mile into a steep gully
Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Straight is Nighthawk up the mountain, right drops into a gully on the way to Little Black Loop.

After crossing the gully, and heading uphills a bit, you will come to the actual loop part of the trail.  You can go right (counterclockwise) or left (clockwise).  For some reason we almost always go right, even though it is uphill while going left is fairly flat at first.  Heading right the next third of a mile is the most strenuous part of this hike.  Once you conquer this section the rest is a piece of cake.

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
One mile go right. Left is the old trail up Little Black Mountain.

About a mile from the parking at the top of the ridge there will be a fork in the trail.  The left fork is the old trail to the top of Little Black Mountain.  The right is the new official trial.  They will probably look to close the old trail off but for now there are no signs.  You just need to bear to the right until in a short distance you reach the Roadrunner Loop.  This is an optional trail that adds about a mile to the hike.

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Start of Roadrunner Loop at a little more than a mile in.

Unlike the new Manzanita Trail loop, the Roadrunner Loop is a straight out-and-back loop that is hard to get lost on.  It goes out on the southern ridge giving nice views of the southern I-15 corridor.  This is the type of narrow trail where I am always on the lookout for rattlesnakes.  I try and make heavy steps to make them aware of my presence.  I don’t like to run upon snakes, but snakes have no desire to meet humans as well.

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Watch for rattlesnakes on narrow Roadrunner Loop

Once you finish with Roadrunner Loop it will drop you back where you started so you can continue on Little Black Loop trail.  Head another 0.4 miles to reach an intersection with another optional loop, the Manzanita Trail Loop.  This trail is a new unmarked trail.  Hiking for over 2 miles I found my way back but I came to multiple 3 and 4-way intersections where it wasn’t clear which way to go.  There were several paper signs but in most cases you have to guess.  Luckily you are on the top of a ridge with just low shrub, so you can’t get too lost.

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
The old ridge line trail is blocked. Right or left starts the Manzanita Loop.
Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Lots of ways to get lost on Manzanita. Paper signs are some help.
Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
View from Manzanita Trail

For now we recommend just continuing left on Little Black Loop.  However, as soon as you turn left you come to another confusing, unmarked fork.  The main service road goes straight, up to Little Black Mountain.  However, the narrower, new trail bears to the right.  You want to take the trail to the right as they are in the process of closing the trail up Little Black Mountain.

Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Right past Manzanita go right on narrow trail. Old trail up Little Black Loop is being closed.

You will continue in a general downhill direction until you reach a bike repair station.  At this point you can go right and follow the signs to Nighthawk trail.  This will take you up to the top of Black Mountain and is part of our Nighthawk trail hike.  These can be combined for a more epic hike but for now we head left and continue down the hill.

A short walk down will bring you back to the start of the loop and from there to the very steep gully, where you initially turned off.  Climb out of the gully, turn left and it is a short 0.6 mile walk back to Hilltop Park.

Total distance: 2.8 miles parking lot and Little Black Loop, Roadrunner Loop adds 0.9 miles, getting lost on Manzanita added 2 miles (officially 1.6 miles).  Total hike was 5.7 miles.

Elevation gain is about 500 feet.

For more information see our complete guide to the area. 


Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Just doing the loop is not quite 3 miles. Shows as longer because I was helping cut trail overgrowth.
Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Don’t pay attention to the time. I was chopping away at the trail


Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Roadrunner Loop
Little Black Mountain Loop Trail
Manzanita Loop is officially only 1.6 miles.


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