San Diego: Cowles Mountain

Ride the bus to the rugged hills of Mission Trails Park and bag the city's high point on a 3-mile out-and-back.
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Mapped by Rajeev Jain

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 2.4
  • Miles from city center: 15



Location: 32.8043212890625, -117.037757873535

From corner of Golfcrest Dr. and Navajo Rd., head NE into park on user trail to kiosk


Location: 32.8045845031738, -117.037208557129

R @ Y on Cowles Mountain Trail. Climb past sage scrub and horned lizards What's in the name? This peak was called Black Mtn., then dubbed "S Mountain" in 1931 after San Diego State students painted a 400-ft. "S" on hillside. The name later changed to honor rancher George A. Cowles


Location: 32.805965423584, -117.036476135254

Hike over wave-carved plateaus


Location: 32.8076820373535, -117.032814025879

Purple and blue California lilacs shelter swallowtail butterflies. These fragrant scrubs were boiled by local Indians for an itch-relieving rub


Location: 32.8095817565918, -117.031608581543

Look ahead: The granite dome of Cowles rises above the sedimentary rock layers below


Location: 32.8102874755859, -117.031066894531

Nearing 1,307 ft., look back for views of Lake Murray


Location: 32.8108062744141, -117.031532287598

Trail switchbacks


Location: 32.8119621276856, -117.031646728516

Trail transitions into a mix of chamise, chaparral, and toyon


Location: 32.8127403259277, -117.031860351562

Cowles Mtn. (1,591 ft.) serves up wide-angle vista over the Coronado Islands and hazy Pacific to the San Ysidro and Cuyamaca Mtns. Return to bus stop