Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 5 miles, Out & Back
Elevation Gain: ~1400 feet
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Bathrooms: At Park, Near Trailhead
Parking: Along Street Near Big Rock Park
Trailhead: Cowles Mountain Northeast Trailhead on Mesa Road
The northeast route up Cowles Mountain is the longest of the access points that will get you to the top and is also the least popular. For these reasons, this is my personal favorite way up the mountain. The trail traverses the rolling hills of the northeast side of the most prominent feature within Mission Trails Regional Park, so there is a little bit more up and down than the more popular south and north approaches.
After half a mile you’ll come to a fork in the trail. Continue straight ahead towards the peak as the trail to your right will lead you to the other side of Big Rock Park along Big Rock Road. Just before the mile mark you’ll find another trail junction. The sign here will tell you that the trail to the left will bring you back down to where Mesa Road ends, this is another alternate access point with limited parking. The route from the end of Mesa Road is also slightly shorter than starting from the Big Rock Park entrance.
Continuing on from the second trail junction and you’ll find yourself at the service road, which is about 1.5 miles from your starting point at the park. Once you’ve reached the service road, follow this path directly to the summit.
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.