Photo: Original uploader was  Rsduhamel at English Wikipedia

Photo: Original uploader was Rsduhamel at English Wikipedia


Name: Cowles Mountain
Height: 486 m (1,593 ft)
Location: in San Diego, California, USA
First Climbed: unknown
Climb Time: 2-3 hours
Best Time to Climb: it is climbed all year round


Introduction to Cowles Mountain.

Cowles Mountain is a prominent hill located in the San Carlos neighborhood within City of San Diego, California. It is the highest point of the city. The entire mountain, with its marked trails, is a protected area within Mission Trails Regional Park.

The mountain is named after George A. Cowles a rancher and businessman, who lived in the 19th century. The name of the mountain is often mispronounced as many people tends to say it in the rhyme with "towels," the correct pronunciation of the name should be like "Coals" as this is how George Cowles's family was known.

Even though nowadays the general name for the mountain is “Cowles”, for many years it was locally known as "S" Mountain, due to a giant “S” letter painted on a side of a mountain by San Diego University students in 1931. It had been taken down under US military’s orders during the World War II, soon after which it had been repainted and stayed up until 1970 when it was abolished due to environmental concerns.

Hiking up to Cowles Mountain only takes around two hours, so it is a great activity for ones who wish for a quick getaway from a hectic city life. The hike is a nice workout, but it is not exhausting. On the walk you will see lots of plants, maybe even wildlife and most importantly the amazing panorama of the city of San Diego.


The most popular trail is only 2,4 km (1,5 mi) long and an elevation gain is only about 290 m (950 ft). This trail starts on the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road. 

The route follows a dirt path and starts to go uphill from the very beginning. The trail can be a little misleading at times as it looks like many people have made their own way to the top - the trail often splits into 3 or 4 directions. On the other hand, all paths seem to lead to the same place. As you continue the climb the views get better and wider, but only when you reach the summit you get the full 360-degree view. 

Mount Cowles is not that tall even by San Diego County standards, but the views from the summit do not disappoint. From the summit, you can see downtown San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument and even Tijuana on a clear day. 

There are also alternative hikes starting from different points, such as Barker Way Trail. This trail is a bit less crowded than Golfcrest Trail, while the Big Rock Trail probably has the lowest number of users and is the longest and the most challenging route to the summit. There is also a trail that starts at Mesa Road trailhead, which is considered to be one of the treasures of the park less known among the public. 


There are quite a few places to hike around in San Diego County, same as in San Diego City.

Within the Mission Trails Regional Park there are four other notable peaks: Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay, South Fortuna and North Fortuna. These are obvious choices for nearby Cowles Mountain hikes. Actually, you can even do it at the same time with the Cowles Mountain while participating in the 5-Peak Challenge that officially kicked off in 2015.

If you are willing to go a little bit further from the city, with easy access located at Ladera St. and Sunset Cliffs Blvd in Ocean Beach, there is Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. This pleasant and relaxing 2,4 km (1,5 mi) walk offers you outstanding sea cliffs, tide pools along with the ocean and in the evening you can even expect to see dolphins and plenty of seals

Furthermore, close to the City of San Diego, there is also Shepherd Canyon - a 3,4 km (2,1 mi) out and back trail that features a lake and is rated as easy. Another option for an easy hike with a possibility to admire some beautiful wildflowers is a Tecolote Canyon Trail.

Finally, roughly an hour northwest of San Diego there is a 6,8 km (4,2 mi) long Cedar Creek Fall to Devil’s Punchbowl Trail that leads to a massive waterfall pouring into the natural pool, surrounded by 75 ft cliffs. 

For more information on hiking trails located in San Diego County, visit a website.