Dorothy Leonard 3-31-99
Cowles Mountain Trail's Golfcrest Drive trailhead at the corner of Jackson Drive and Golfcrest provides restrooms and water.

C. Rasmussen 1 18 05
The first of successive 1/4 mile markers leading to the Cowles Mtn. summit

C, Rasmussen 2 9 05
Stop and enjoy the many great views on your trek to Cowles Mtn. summit. This one as you near the 1/2 mile marker and view of Lake Murray. Tijauna and the Coronado Islands lie the hazy background.

C. Rasmussen 06 16 06
... Again, take a time-out to check out the views!
Yes, that's downtown San Diego with Point Loma in the background.

C, Rasmussen 6 23 06
You're at 1,406' above sea level and just a quarter mile (185' verticle) climb to Cowles Mtn. summit (elev. 1,591').

C Rasmussen 2 11 05
A very talented Eagle Scout group built this bridge during January 05. They - and other trail maintenance volunteers - spend much of every year doing their best to keep your trails in "hiking order". Yet users that know better are still taking "off trail" shortcuts causing unsightly erosion followed by flooding during the rainy season.
If you have a cell phone and see this destruction in progress, please call the MTRP Visitors Center at 619-668-3261.

C Rasmussen 11 04 03
A hiker, with child in backpack, places her hand on the Cowles Mtn. summit marker while surveying the beauty of the not too distant Cuyamaca Mtn.

Cowles Mountain from Golfcrest Drive
1.5 miles one way
5 Challenging

By far, Cowles Mtn. (pronounced “Coals”)* with its outstanding views at 1,591’ above sea level, is arguably the most popular (and populated) trail in San Diego County. This for many reasons: With its 933' vertical ascent, it has become a fitness playground for the very, very young to the very, very old. Its popularity is regularly substantiated by the high number of hikers/joggers/runners on the trail at any time. On weekends, during the period 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, upwards of 800 “discoverers” of Cowles Mountain have been counted while enjoying this difficult and scenic hike.

Parking is very limited at this trail head. We encourage hikers to enjoy the park from other trail heads.

“People problems” are rare here, making it a favorite of single moms and others who embrace safety in numbers. Unlike so many local (and regional) trails there’s a sort of comradship here where nearly everyone says “hi” and each looks out for the other.

Because of the trail’s fairly consistent rate of altitude gain, hikers who have made a commitment to health and fitness a priority, have found that even a slow beginning walk to the first switchback and back is a start bringing a great feeling of accomplishment with it. Some use the ¼ mile markers to slowly increase their distance on a regular basis with the very realistic goal of someday touching the plaque on the rock at the top!

It’s also a favorite of families, especially those with young children in introducing them to hiking. It’s rare that you’ll hike Cowles Mountain trail without seeing children with their favorite adults - some in backpack carriers, some running and many “huffing and puffing”. But most gratifying are the huge smiles on all involved!

Dist(mi) Alt. Climb Data:
1.54 - 1,591' - 933'
1.25 - 1,439' - 781'
1.00 - 1,307' - 649'
.75 -- 1,182' - 524'
.50 - - 978' -- 320'
.25 - - 808' -- 150'
.00 - - 658' - START

To get there from San Diego (see below for directions from other locations)
From I-15, take Friars Rd. East which becomes Mission Gorge Rd., 5.0 miles east. Pass Jackson Drive and the Mission Trails Regional Park turnoff. Continue up Mission Gorge Rd. to a right turn on Golfcrest (the first traffic light past Jackson Drive). Follow Golfcrest one mile south to the trailhead on the left side of Golfcrest at Navajo. On weekends the parking lot is usually full, however curbside parking is permitted on Golfcrest.
CAUTION: The speed limit on Golfcrest is 25 mph. and is regularly enforced with radar!

* If you haven’t already, take time to stop by the Mission Trails Regional Park’s Visitors Center, you’re missing something if you haven’t! Entry is free as are most of the displays, videos, movies and etc. Visit the gift shop where you can pick up a great Mission Trails trail map. While there, be sure to say hi to the volunteers who are prepared to help with anything from trail information to current events in the park. Oh, and be sure and ask for a free handout telling about how Cowles Mountain got its name!

Restrooms and water is available at trail's base.

Hiking

Habitats:


Cowles Mountain from Golfcrest Drive
From Interstate 8 - Take 8 to the College Avenue exit. Proceed north on College Avenue 1.0 miles to Navajo Road. Turn right and proceed on Navajo Road 1.9 miles to Golfcrest Drive. Turn left on Golfcrest Drive to enter parking lot.

From Route 52 - Take 52 to the Mast Blvd. exit in Santee. Driving east, turn left onto Mast Blvd., go under the freeway to the first traffic signal (West Hills Parkway) and turn right. Driving west, turn right onto Mast Blvd. and right onto West Hills Parkway. Take West Hills Parkway to Mission Gorge Road and turn right. Proceed down Mission Gorge Road 1.9 miles to Golfcrest Drive. Turn left onto Golfcrest Drive and proceed to the top of the hill. The staging area is on the left at the intersection of Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive.

From Route 125 - Take 125 north to Mission Gorge Road. Exit at Mission Gorge Road and make a left. Proceed down Mission Gorge Road 3.3 miles to Golfcrest Drive. Turn left onto Golfcrest Drive and proceed 1 mile to the top of the hill. The staging area is on the left at the intersection of Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive.
Cowles Mountain Staging Area
From Interstate 8 - Take 8 to the College Avenue exit. Proceed north on College Avenue 1.0 miles to Navajo Road. Turn right and proceed on Navajo Road 1.9 miles to Golfcrest Drive. Turn left on Golfcrest Drive to enter parking lot.

From Route 52 - Take 52 to the Mast Blvd. exit in Santee. Driving east, turn left onto Mast Blvd., go under the freeway to the first traffic signal (West Hills Parkway) and turn right. Driving west, turn right onto Mast Blvd. and right onto West Hills Parkway. Take West Hills Parkway to Mission Gorge Road and turn right. Proceed down Mission Gorge Road 1.9 miles to Golfcrest Drive. Turn left onto Golfcrest Drive and go to the top of the hill. The staging area is on the left at the intersection of Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive.

From Route 125 - Take 125 north to Mission Gorge Road and turn left. Proceed down Mission Gorge Road 3.3 miles to Golfcrest Drive. Turn left onto Golfcrest Drive and go 1 mile to the top of the hill. The staging area is on the left at the intersection of Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive.