- 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! Show your support for my free hiking guides by checking out the deals below.↓↓↓ You can also make a small donation if you'd like, but please don't feel obligated to do so. HikingGuy.com is a labor of love because I want people to get outdoors and enjoy the trails safely. I want people to buy gear that actually works and not waste money on crap. I love helping people enjoy the outdoors, but 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 REI affiliate sales and banners help offset my hard costs like website hosting. The content on this site will always be free for everyone to enjoy.
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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.
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