Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 3 miles, Out & Back
Elevation Gain: ~950 feet
Popularity: Very High
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Bathrooms: At Trailhead
Parking: Small Lot at Trailhead; Overflow Parking on Street
Trailhead: Cowles Mountain South Trailhead on Golfcrest Drive at Navajo Road
Cowles Mountain is one of, if not the, most populated hiking spot within San Diego and the south approach is the most tread trail to the peak. One reason for the high popularity is the panoramic view at the top where you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean to the west and the surrounding mountains to the north and east.
From the trailhead you’ll follow the well worn trail (and likely a line of fellow hikers depending on your start time) almost directly up the mountain. There are many switchbacks cut along the mountain’s side but the grade is manageable with a few rock steps to navigate. The trails are well marked as there are a few spur trails to explore or ignore depending on your level of adventure for the day.
Reaching the peak you’ll find the concrete monument that marks the summit as well as a few interpretive panels that describe what may be visible while gazing in the various directions on a clear day. After you’ve taken in the views you’ll proceed down the same route you came up. There are other routes up and down the mountain so do make sure you’ve started your descent on the same path that brought you up.