Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
1,030.00 ft (313.94 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
3.00 mi (4.83 km)
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Cowles Mountain is one of the most popular hiking destinations in San Diego, and for good reason. As the highest point within San Diego, the peak offers panoramic views stretching from Point Loma and downtown to the west and Lake Murray and El Cajon Mountain to the east. Barker Way is just one of the numerous routes to Cowles Mountain. Although it is slightly less crowded than the southeastern Golfcrest Drive Trail, those seeking a more secluded hiking experience may opt for the Big Rock Trail to the north.

The trail starts off as a relatively flat gravel service road. Veer left at the 0.1-mile mark to follow a smaller trail that winds through dense chaparral as it begins to ascend the mountain. There are sections that have been partially washed out and are uneven, but the trail is largely well maintained. Before long, impressive views of the surrounding mountains, Lake Murray, and the surrounding suburbs begin to open up. During the spring, the trail is dotted with wildflowers and blooming shrubs such as California buckwheat. After a series of switchbacks, hikers are rewarded with 360-degree views at the summit. On a clear day, the view extends to the Pacific Ocean, including Santa Catalina Island and the Coronado Islands in Mexico. Those who want more of a challenge may continue to Pyle’s Peak, adding an extra 3 miles roundtrip and 850 feet of elevation change.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Panoramic views. Wildflowers.

Cons

Can get crowded. Little shade.

Trailhead Elevation

750.00 ft (228.60 m)

Highest point

1,590.00 ft (484.63 m)

Features

Big vistas
Wildflowers
Vault toilet

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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