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 Website||Mission Trails Regional Park|
|Stay In Touch||Newsletter - Instagram - YouTube - Facebook|
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 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.
The La Sportiva Spire boots feel like comfortable sneakers but offer the protection of hiking boots. They’re great on everything from short hikes to longer hikes of 10+ miles. You don’t want to skimp on your feet.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: Women – Men
I test a lot of gear, and for short to medium day hikes, travel, and everyday use, the Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women) are consistently the best. They’re lightweight, hold a hydration bladder to make drinking water easy, have lots of pockets to organize gear, and most importantly, are incredibly comfortable. Check out the reviews; they are impressive.
Reviews & Colors Here: Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women)
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here
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 a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
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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Turn by Turn Directions
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.