Cowles Mountain

La Mesa, California 91944

Cowles Mountain

Cowles Mountain Professional Review and Guide

"Panoramic views of San Diego County from its foothills to its blue shoreline lure hikers to this inland peak. Three trails access this extremely popular viewpoint, so if quiet solitude is your goal, pick another hike. But you cant say youve hiked San Diego County if you havent hiked Cowles Mountain."

More Cowles Mountain Professional Reviews and Guides

"One of San Diego’s most accessible cardio hikes to the highest point in the City of San Diego almost immediately rewards hikers with views of surrounding mountains and the Pacific. The south- facing trail has almost zero shade, but on a cool day if your four- legged pal likes to socialize on his workouts, this is the jaunt for him.

The 1,600-foot mound protruding above the San Diego skyline is protected within Mission Trails Regional Park’s approximately 6,000 acres. The seed for Mission Trails Regional Park grew from community concern about the rapid spread of new development during the 1960s."

"Cowles Mountain is the highest point within the city limits of San Diego. It is named after George Cowles an early ranch pioneer in Southern California. The surname is pronounced coals, even though the spelling suggests otherwise. The mountain almost lost its historical moniker, but the good folks at Mission Trails Regional Park were able to preserve the name and this wonderful urban recreational area for posterity. This region was slated for development in the early 1970s, and a mix of visionary developers, elected officials, and community leaders helped to get the area turned into a regional park. More recently, a few bond measures have resulted in the current boundaries of the park property as it now stands, and new trails are currently in the works."

"Simply the most comprehensive vista any peak in San Diego can offer."

"If you tire of the hordes of Cowles Mountain regulars on the popular south trail, try this loop on the east slope instead. Partly on the service road leading to the antenna facility near the summit and partly on a narrow foot trail, the route draws relatively few travelers. Since I live close to the mountain and use it as a training ground, you’ll sometimes find me jogging up either the road or the trail by the light of dawn. When early morning fog hugs the ground, most commonly in the fall, a quick trip up the slope allows me to punch through the cloud layer and witness a scene every bit equal to the famous sunrises over the cloud-wreathed crater of Haleakala on Maui."

"This most difficult approach to Cowles’ summit is also the most beautiful— especially in the early spring when blooming chaparral, ground-hugging wildflowers, and bright-green grass freshen the landscape. The meandering roads and ugly paths cut into the mountain’s northeast slope long ago by bulldozers and motorcycles have been replaced in recent years by better-engineered trails, complete with water bars and other features designed to divert runoff and prevent erosion. Please stay on the designated paths so as to let the scarred areas of the mountain return to a natural state. Mountain biking is allowed on the entire route as described here; however, there are some steep grades and certain sections are strewn with rocks."

"If you are looking for a quad-blasting experience on a short, steep climb, this is it. Cowles Mountain is the tallest mountain in the heart of San Diego. You will gain 950 feet in 1.5 miles on a challenging trail that is marked at quarter-mile intervals. The trail is quite popular with runners and hikers. It is well-maintained, with wooden steps in the steeper areas and occasional solid-rock crossings. The trailhead has restrooms and water, and there are several fast-food restaurants nearby. Parking is free. Due to the popularity of Cowles Mountain Trail, park rangers are particularly concerned about trail erosion, so stay on the trail at all times. Be courteous and pay close attention to other trail users, and always put safety first when passing."

"This very popular (possibly San Diego County’s most heavily traveled hiking route) trail switchbacks up the sunny south side of Cowles Mountain. Because of the low-growing vegetation, there are unobstructed views nearly the entire way up. At first, nearby features such as Lake Murray command your attention, then far-off locales such as downtown San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, and Mexico come into view. The trail was cut on mostly decomposed granite, so it is quite susceptible to erosion wherever the slope gets steep. Please don’t shortcut the switchbacks, tempting as it may be, as this aggravates the erosion problem."

Cowles Mountain Reviews

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7/28/2018
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3/27/2014
Great trail for our family hike. We're an active family with 14 year old boys and were looking for a challenging and fun hike with a view at the top and this hike fit the bill. The trail starts meandering through low brush and continues into steeper switch backs. It then turns to a forest road that is pretty steep to the top. We really liked the south approach as it was much less crowded. The views were great looking out over San Diego and the ocean.
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5/31/2011
Very fun trail with great views the whole way up. I went around five o'clock and there were a lot of people walking the trail, but there wasn't so many that it disrupted the adventure. I brought along my lab puppy and he enjoyed it, and no one seemed to have any issues with him. Its steep, but easy to get to the top, and while looking from the bottom to the top it seems like its going to take a lot to get up there, but once you get there you realize that its not so bad. A lot of people were running the trail, as I did on the way down, which was a lot more fun then walking. I'll probably do it again one of these days.
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4/12/2011
Crowded! About 40 people coming down at about 6:30, and 20 going up. VERY rocky, yet most had sneakers, no socks, carrying dogs, no water, no jacket (cold up top), everyone in a blinding rush, unbelievable! An orthopedic surgeon's dream. Go late, bring a head lamp and trekking poles, have a beautiful and relaxing walk down, be careful, there are some fairly treacherous rocky areas covered in sand.
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5/25/2010
Great view of SD, would not want to run on this trail tho very bumpy and rocky, great trip up a little tough bring water. lots of people on the weekends try early on a weekday for the best experience.
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12/19/2008
Good parking at trail head with restroom facilities. Great views of San Diego area. Trail has many switchbacks to get to top in a short period of time.
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Cowles Mountain Photos

Trail Information

La Mesa
Nearby City
Dog-friendly, Kid-friendly
Accessibility
4.4
Distance
Out-and-back
Trail Type
Moderate to Difficult
Skill Level
3hours
Duration
Winter and spring, when the rains make the area lush
Season
Local Maps

Activity Feed

Oct 2018