Hiking Cowles Mountain: Tallest Mountain in San Diego City

I know the title makes this seem like some great feat but the mountain is only around 1600 feet. I just hoped to immediately capture your attention with that title that makes the feat seem epic. Anyways, hiking Cowles Mountain in San Diego is a great way to spend a couple hours. The hike provides a nice workout, lots of plant and possibly wild life and a amazing vista of the city of San Diego. In that regard I recommend it highly if you live in the area or are just visiting.

Below is a little information on the mountain.

 “Cowles Mountain is a prominent mountain within the city limits of San Diego, California and also within Mission Trails Regional Park. The mountain is named after George A. Cowles, an early ranching pioneer in San Diego County. Its 1,593-foot summit is the highest point in the city of San Diego. The main trail to the summit is a popular hiking destination taking hundreds of people per day to a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of San Diego County. The round trip hike is around 3 miles long and an elevation change of about 950 feet.”

The Hike

The first thing you have to deal with on this hike is the parking. The parking lot itself is really small and it fills up quickly. When we were there on a Friday at around 11AM it was completely full and there was a line of cars parked down the street side. There is a lot of street side parking though so as long as you are cool with adding distance to your hike you can generally find somewhere to park. There is also bathrooms at the base of the hike that seem to be well kept up. During the course of the hike we passed atleast 40 people so this hike is very popular.

The hike itself follows a worn dirt path that is well kept up and starts to climb from the very begining. Since the hike is 900 feet in elevation in 1.5 miles it does climb very steadily the entire time. It is not hard though if you pace yourself and take your time. Also, if it is hot make sure you bring plenty of water as there is relatively no escape from the sun.

The trail can be a little misleading at times as it looks like many people have made their own way as the trail often splits into 3 or 4 traveled paths. Don’t worry though as all paths seem to lead to the same place. As you continue the climb the views get better and better until topping out at the summit. It took us about 45 minutes to make it up.

The Summit

The summit itself does not let down. It provides beautiful vistas in every direction. You can see downtown San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument and even Tijuana on a clear day. There is also a unique summit plaque that many people were taking pictures at and on the other side of the mountain some antennas and a small building. You will want to spend some time up here to look around if it is your first time so plan accordingly. Just the fact that you can see another country from the top of this hike makes it something not many hikes in the US can boast about.

After that we headed back down. The whole trip only took about an hour and a half and that was with a lot of time spent looking around at the top. The hike itself is a good work out and I would recommend it to almost anyone, the summit views will make you glad that you did. Check out the rest of the pictures and directions to the parking lot below. Let me know if you have climbed this mountain and liked it as much as me.


Get Directions


Center map

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  • Looks pretty cool I might have to check that out one day.

  • Happy Trails

    Great bit of info! Just what I needed to hear before hiking it the first time. Thanks
    Happy Trails…

    • Thanks for the comment! Hope you had fun!

  • countrygurl98

    I love Hiking Cowles Mountain, I try and do it at least once a month, it’s a great hike and I love the views!

    • Ya it is a nice city hike to gain some elevation and see nice views!

  • Thanks for the comment and for sharing your great post!

    • Cris Hazzard

      Thanks Josh, happy hiking amigo!

  • bckm

    A close friend died on this trail in late sept 2016. I wasn’t there, but I think he didn’t take adequate precautions cuz he had hiked this trail before.

    I don’t consider myself a “hiker” although I hiked Mt. Hollywood a long time ago, and went hiking in different places in Los Angeles in prior years.