At 1,592 feet, Cowles Mountain is the highest point within the City of San Diego. Located in the San Carlos neighborhood of the city, its main hiking trail is one of the most popular in the area, with a 360-degree view from the summit.
So, How Do You Pronounce It?
Cowles is actually pronounced "coals" - although the majority of the population doesn't know that and pronounces it more phonetically as "cow-ellz." It was named after George Cowles, an early rancher from the area.
Is It Part of Mission Trails Park?
Yes. Mission Trails Regional Park encompasses nearly 5,800 acres of both natural and developed recreational acres. Centrally located and only eight miles northeast of downtown San Diego, Mission Trails Regional Park provides a quick, natural escape from the urban hustle and bustle. And Cowles Mountain is a favorite destination for people wanting a challenging hike close by.
Hiking the Mountain
Not only is Cowles Mountain's hiking trail the most popular in the area, it is also one of the most populated. Though the elevation change of the 1.5-mile main trail is nearly 950 feet, it is relatively easy for adults and children alike. Because of the safety in numbers, one never feels isolated from help.
The Main Trail at Golfcrest Drive
Most hiking Cowles Mountain take the main trail, with its gradual elevation over 1.5 miles. The trailhead can be reached at Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road. A visitor's center is located there with information, restrooms, and water.
Barker Way Trailhead
This trail uses less than 10% of the use of the Cowles Mountain’s Golfcrest Trail. This trail has twenty-five switchbacks over 1.05 miles to its intersection with the main trail.
Big Rock Park Trailhead
Big Rock trail probably has the lowest number of users and is the most challenging.
Mesa Road Trailhead
This underused trail is one of the gems of the Park. In many of its segments, the chaparral is so high and thick that the trail appears to be passing through a tunnel.
"S" Mountain - Urban Legend?
If it seems you can spot a faint "S" on the side of the mountain, you aren't seeing things. In early 1931, it was known as "S" Mountain, and SDSU students painted a white "S" on the mountain. Over the decades, the "S" would fade and then get re-painted by subsequent generations of students until its last painting in the late 1980s. With the Park now designated a protected area, the "S" has faded into memory.
Directions To Cowles Mountain
Main Trailhead: 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 the 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.