At 1,592 feet, Cowles Mountain (pronounced ‘coals’) is the highest peak in San Diego. Its multiple approaches, easy access, and 360-degree views from the summit make it one of the most popular hikes in the county. Although the route from the most popular Golfcrest Drive Trailhead is only 1.5 miles long, the elevation gain of almost 950 feet makes the hike quite a workout. The parking lot at Golfcrest Drive fills quickly, so many hikers park along the street.
The best time to visit Cowles Mountain is on a cool, sunny day. When the sky is clear, views stretch over Lake Murray, south to Mexico, and west to the city of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. An informational sign at the summit names all the visible peaks. While the views may be limited on cloudy days, the hiking may be a little cooler as the trail offers little in the way of shelter. This well-groomed trail is popular with trail runners and night hikers.