- 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
Gear for the Cowles Moutnain Hike The best hydration daypack out there. The CamelBak Fourteener has been perfect on hikes of all distances (including Mt Whitney and Cactus to Clouds). It's light, has plenty of room for super-food snacks, extra layers, hiking gear, and comes with a 3 liter water bladder. I also like the raised sweat pads on the back that keep your back dry. It's the perfect blend of high-tech, durability, and simplicity. I've got hundreds of hours on it and still love it. CamelBak Fourteener Reviews My favorite hiking boot of all time. The La Sportiva Synthesis (for men and women) are waterproof, super-light, have incredible grip, and won a Backpacker Magazine Editor's Choice Award ( my review here). I've gone through a lot of boots and these are my favorite. They feel like comfortable sneakers with the protection of hiking boots. La Sportiva Hiking Boot Reviews Don't hike without this in your backpack. It's a GPS emergency beacon and can save your life ( more on that here). On the trail, you're often out of cell phone range, and even something as simple as a twisted ankle could become a life and death situation. This beacon works where cell phones don't and is the size of a fist. Just press a button and help is on the way. Your life is worth every penny. ACR GPS Beacon Reviews And don't forget to My complete list of hiking gear and survival kit contents is here, check it out! check out REI outlet for great gear at half price. 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!
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!
The Modern Hiking Essentials
The 10 hiking essentials are the recommended key survival tools that hikers should bring with them on every hike. The original 10 essentials date back the 1930s. Here’s my take on the modern hiking essentials and how to use them.
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.