- Home - Hiking Trails - Hiking San Diego Cowles Mountain Hike
The Cowles Mountain hike brings you to the highest point in San Diego, with views from Mexico to Orange County. It's a tough little climb, and there are a few routes to the top. This hiking route is the most scenic, has the best parking situation, and the least crowds. It's a great, safe beginners hike, and a must-do if you're in San Diego.
4.3 miles (6.9 km)
Sunrise or Sunset
Free Street Parking
Cowles Moutnain Hike Trail Maps
Google Maps trailhead:
8300 Big Rock Road, Santee, CA, 92071, USA Hike Location Cowles Mountain is about 25 minutes east of downtown San Diego. 3D Hike Map You'll hike up the east side of Cowles Mountain to avoid the crowds on the more popular west side approach. Hike Elevation Profile It's a steady uphill hike with a short section in the middle to catch your breath. Interactive Hike Map Cowles Moutnain Hike Map Downloads View a Printable PDF Hike Map Download the Hike GPX File Cowles Moutnain Hike Directions What to Expect Cowles Mountain is the highest point in San Diego at 1,592 feet. The hike steep, but the trail isn’t technical. The summit has 360 degree views of San Diego, Orange County, and the surrounding mountains. Cowles is pronounced ‘coals’. The Cowles Mountain hike is in Mission Trails Regional Park, the largest municipally owned park in Southern California (7th largest in the USA) at nearly 7,000 acres. They have a full trail map if you’d like to explore more of the park. The Parking is on the street and free. It’s a residential neighborhood, so please respect people’s property. As the day goes on, the parking fills up. Just park farther away and walk to the trail. Turn by Turn Directions The Cowles Mountain hike starts at the end of the street. Parking is free on the street. The entrance to Big Rock Trail is easy to spot. Start the hike here. Take a second to read the hiking board for the latest conditions. This route takes Big Rock Trail up the back of the mountain. The trail is well marked. This is the sign at the start of the hike. After a minute or so, there’s a junction with the Big Rock Park spur. Hike to the right on the trail. Look up to where those towers are. That’s the Cowles Mountain summit. The Big Rock trail climbs up a series of stairs. The trail is easy to follow. At about 0.8 miles, you reach the junction with the Mesa Trail. Hike to the right on the Big Rock Trail. The trail is steep, so as you climb, take breaks and look behind you as the vista opens up to the east. The Big Rock Trail will dead end into the Cowles Service Road. Hike to the right at the junction. The Cowles Service Road is wide and well marked. You’ll start noticing more people here too. As you continue hiking, you’ll start to see the trail leading to the summit. There are some trails to the left. Stay straight on the wide and well marked Cowles Service Road. As you approach the summit, there’s another trail to the left. Keep right. lmost there! As the road peaks, there are two sections to explore. Hit the area on the right first. The views here to the east and north are awesome. Take it all in. When you’re done looking at the view to the north and east, head back and cross the road to the main summit area. Here you are! The Cowles Mountain summit. The views are breathtaking. There’s also a sign that tells you what you’re looking at. Once you’ve had your fill, head back down the way you came up. I hope you enjoy the Cowles Mountain hike as much as I did! Cowles Moutnain Hike Video Please subscribe to my YouTube channel here! Support This Site
This site is a labor of love because I want people to get outdoors and enjoy the trails safely. It takes hundreds of hours of my time and hundreds of dollars of my money to add new content, maintain, and update. A small amount of money from affiliate sales and banners help offset my hard costs. If you'd like to donate to help the cause, I appreciate all the help, but certainly don't feel obligated to. You
can give whatever you'd like with your credit card. Again, I appreciate any help, and these directions and tips are and always will be free for everyone to enjoy. You can also help support this site by checking out discounted gear REI outlet. ↓↓↓
Torrey Pines Hike
This Torrey Pines hike takes you to the best of the park – rare Torrey Pines, ocean views, and unique geology. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of those once in a lifetime destinations, I highly recommend this hike!
My Best Hiking Gear List
I hike a lot, and I go through a lot of gear. Here’s my best hiking gear list. This list features all the hiking gear that is worth your time, skipping the junk that you don’t need. I take a high-tech and low-tech approach, giving you the convenience of hiking with technology while offering low-tech backups in case the fancy gear fails. Everything you see in this hiking gear list is what I use on every hike that I do. I update this page regularly when I test and use new hiking gear.
Hiking San Diego
In addition to ample sunshine, hiking San Diego offers hikes for everyone. From coastal hikes, to moonscape deserts, to big mountains, there’s tremendous variety. San Diego County’s 4,261 square miles are the most biologically diverse in California, with over 2,000 plant species, over 500 species of birds, and hundreds of species of reptiles and mammals.
Read More A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.
Copyright © 2017 HikingGuy · All Rights Reserved
I'm a proud member of the
Sierra Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club,, the American Alpine Club, the National Audubon Society, and the American Hiking Society.
This information provided by HikingGuy.com is presented as a public service to those wishing to enjoy the outdoors. The recipient may use this information with the understanding that HikingGuy.com makes no warranties, although every attempt will be made to ensure the information is accurate. This website is not intended to replace official sources and information should not be considered error-free or not be used as the exclusive basis for decision-making. The use of the information provided by this website is strictly voluntary and at the user’s sole risk. HikingGuy.com assumes no responsibility or liability whatsoever associated with the use or misuse of this data.
Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small affiliate commission. Regardless,
I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.