Cowles Mountain Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||4.3 miles (6.9 km)|
|Time||2 Hours (Total Time)|
|Total Climbing||1,189 feet (362m)|
|Highest Elevation||1,593 feet (486m)|
|Park Name||Mission Trails Regional Park|
The Cowles Mountain hike brings you to the highest point in San Diego at 1,593ft, with views from Mexico to Orange County. Cowles Mountain is also one of the most popular hikes in San Diego, so I’ve routed this hike up the less trafficked and more scenic “back way” up the mountain. It’s a fun, safe beginners hike, and a must-do if you’re in San Diego.
Cowles Mountain (pronounced ‘coals’) is named after George A. Cowles, who was a rancher, farmer, and businessman here in the 1870s-80s. Orginally from the East Coast, Cowles moved to San Diego, expanded his fortune and became known as the “Raisin King of the US.” Today Cowles Mountain is part of Mission Trails Regional Park, the largest municipally owned park in Southern California (7th largest in the USA) at nearly 7,000 acres.
Where is Cowles Mountain?
Use this as the GPS trailhead address: Big Rock Trail, 8301 Big Rock Rd, Santee, CA 92071.
Parking is on the street and free. It’s a residential neighborhood, so please respect people’s property. Don’t do U-turns in people’s driveways. As the day goes on, the parking fills up. Just park farther away and walk to the trail.
I recommend leaving as early as possible to beat the crowds. The crowds can be bad; don’t expect anyone to know hiking etiquette here.
Gear for the Hike
You don’t need any special hiking gear for the Cowles Mountain Hike, you can do it with fitness clothes. In fact, when I did this trip report, I saw a guy in a thong doing the hike. Luckily, I wasn’t hiking behind him. Here’s what I’d bring:
- Trail runners or sneakers
- Plenty of water, this hike can get really hot
My Top Gear Picks
Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:
- Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
- Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
- Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.
I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.
See My Full Gear List
Cowles Mountain Trail Maps
I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.
Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
Mission Trails Region Park also has a full trail map if you’d like to explore more of the park.
How to Hike Cowles Mountain
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Turn by Turn Directions
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