Cowles Mountain

La Mesa, California 91942

Cowles Mountain

Cowles Mountain Professional Review and Guide

"Touted as one of the largest urban parks in the country, Mission Trails Regional Park, in San Diego’s San Carlos district, preserves some of the last remaining open space close to the heart of this sprawling city. Cowles Mountain, centerpiece of the regional park, stands 1,591 feet above sea level and is recognized as the highest point within San Diego’s city limits. Hundreds of people walk the main south trail to its summit daily. Since several newer trails have been laid out on the east and north slopes of the mountain in recent years, hikers can choose from among several summit routes. We describe the ever-popular south route, which consistently offers vistas stretching from the Pacific Ocean to Mexico."

Cowles Mountain Reviews

4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars
icon8 Total
Got to the trail head and it was closed. No explanation just directions to some other trailhead down some 13 mile dirt road...
First let me say that I am just getting reconditioned to hiking, I am 42 and quite heavy. I did this on memorial day and the week prior to memorial day. The difference in temperature between the two hikes was about 20 degrees, which made a huge difference. I actually come from the Ramona Oaks side, which is 1000 feet elevation change in about 1.25 miles. Both the descent and ascent are intense. At 60 degrees it was tough but not a real problem for me. At 80 degrees it was quite strenuous and required many breaks. I brought 2 litres of water and used it all as well as the 1/2 litre a kid gave me near the end. Thanks kid!! The falls are awesome. I went to the top pools which were much less populated. Had the place to myself for a good 45 minutes. The bottom had an average of about 50 people the whole time. Total trip time was 6 hours, total hike time 4.25 hours. 100% worth the trip. I will definately take more water and possibly try to get out there later in the day to avoid the intense sushine. There is very little shade along the route unless you are willing to crawl under a rock or bush. something my dog was quite good at.
Nice hike with a great reward, although if you come from the Julian side it is a long climb back out. It was hot the day we went so we consumed all of our water by the time we got back to our vehicle. There was still a small flow of water at the falls, and there was a decent crowd once we were leaving. Due to is popularity it does have some trash present, not too much to make it feel really dirty though.
Steep mountains with spectacular views of chaparral. Despite the trail--an old jeep road--this area still has the feel of wilderness. I set out about 9:30 with my two boys, ages 2 and 4, from Saddleback junction at the end of Eagle Peak Road. As there were no trailhead markers and not a soul for the last 8 miles of dirt road, I wasn't altogether sure we were even on the right trail. It's a steady not-too-steep descent about 1000 feet to trail that spurs off to the left and down to Cedar Creek. It was a bit cold and the rain started coming down when we arrived at the creek, just in time to eat lunch under one of the many oak trees in the bottom of the canyon. There we saw our first person of the day. Fortunately, we didn't find the dead person that another hiker found just a couple hundred yards upstream from our picnic. (Heart attack? Hypothermia? Cold rain for two days and he wasn't wearing winter clothes). Made for a really creepy feeling for the rest of the day and we headed back up soon after. Before that, fortunately, we scrambled out over a few rocks for a spectacular view of the top of the falls, about a 100-foot drop. Kept close watch on my boys. My youngest too was inexplicably unwilling to hike (he's usually the opposite and refuses to be carried) and whining and crying a lot. Turns out he was spiking a fever, but I didn't know til I got home. So, I'd like to return when circumstances were better, but still a good outing and good to get the boys out into the "wild." They ate it up. My youngest, through his tears of discomfort, still insisted he was having fun and liked the trail.
This is a great little hike but make sure take plenty of water if you are hiking during July or Aug. The trail does not have any shade so the heat gets very intense. The small water pools at the falls are great for the kids.
There are several routes to this excellent swimming hole. We discovered that contrary to the map/guide, you can continue downhill on the Cedar Creek trail past the first (left) turnoff (marked by a no diving sign). If you keep going about 3/4 of a mile, you drop down around the last little hill in the chain and are just about level with the creek you've been parallelling the whole way. At this point there is a big clump of oak trees (an obvious shady resting spot) and a a trail junction, and the trails area all jeep-trail quality (some 4-bys came through when we were there!). Take your left turn off the main trail here; the trail crosses a stream and shortly after narrows to a footpath, and if you have your bearings, you'll notice you're kind of backtracking but this time alongside a smaller stream on the other side of the hills from where you hiked downhill. Follow the path until you reach the swimming hole, probably about 1/2 a mile from the turn-off. The reason I like this alternate is that while it makes the hike a little longer, its much safer and you get to drop all the way to the canyon bottom as part of your hike.
It was most satisfactory, givin that my group encountered many forms of entertainment other that the jumps and the hike. Your trip to the oasis is always made better when you come across two military men determined to jump from the highest point. Nice swan David!!
This is a short trip, but takes quite a while to drive to the trailhead from San Diego - best to break it up with apple pie in Julian and make a day out of it! If you''re lucky enough to actually have some water running down the face of the falls, bonus points to you! Dead dry when we were there and that was February. The top trial''s now closed, so you have to take the bottom dirt road trail (part of the San Diego Sea to Sea Trail) and then the east turn to the Falls. There''s a great scramble up the left hand side of the Falls to get a great view overlooking the pool. Have a dip!

Cowles Mountain Photos

Trail Information

La Mesa
Nearby City
Dog-friendly, Kid-friendly
950 feet
Elevation Gain
Trail Type
Skill Level
2 hours
All year
Mission Trails Regional Park
Local Contacts
USGS 7.5-minute La Mesa
Local Maps

Activity Feed

Jul 2018