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Cowles Mountain—South Approach Trail Professional Review and Guide
"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."
--Jerry Schad, Afoot & Afield: San Diego County (Wilderness Press).
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.
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.
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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