Cowles Mountain Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||4.3 miles (6.9 km)|
|Hike Time||2 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,170 feet (357m)|
|Highest Elevation||1,593 feet (486m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free|
|Park Contact||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 the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike*.
Good for light and more hardcore hikes. Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.
This is a super-light and comfortable backpack that can hold everything you need on a hike, including a hydration bladder. It also works great as a general backpack or carry-on.
Make your photos stand out by using this lightweight, do-anything tripod. The Joby attaches your smartphone to trees, rocks, whatever you can find on the trail. Folds down compactly too.
Don’t waster your money on hiking gear that’s no good, I’ve done that for you already! Full HikingGuy Gear List
* No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Also → Big Sale at REI On Now:
Cowles Mountain Trail Maps
Cowles Mountain Hike Map Downloads
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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Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.