Pyles Peak

 

Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 5-8 miles (depending on your route up Cowles), Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Elevation Gain: ~2000 feet
Popularity: High to Cowles; Low to Pyles
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: At Trailheads
Parking: See Chosen Start Point Write-up
Trailhead: Any Cowles Mountain Trailhead

Pyles Peak is another summit within Mission Trails Regional Park and is accessible only from the trail that begins near the summit of Cowles Mountain. For this reason, you’ll need to hike to the top of Cowles Mountain before you are able to head over to Pyles. For write-ups of each of the Cowles Mountain starting points you can choose from the leads below.

Cowles Mountain – South Approach

Cowles Mountain – East Approach

Cowles Mountain – Northeast Approach

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Sign Marking the Start of the Trail to Pyles Peak.

Once you’ve arrived at the Cowles Mountain summit you’ll need to locate the start of the Pyles Peak trail. If you’re standing at the concrete monument that marks the top of Cowles Mountain you’ll head north (towards the radio antenna). Follow the steps in this direction and then bear left (again, towards the radio antenna). A sign marking the Pyles Peak trail will become visible on your left hand side where you will see a trail leading down in elevation (image above)

The first section of the trail to Pyles descends away from the Cowles Mountain summit until you reach a small saddle where it bends around and begins to climb slightly again. You’ll contour over the rolling hills that form the spine between Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak following a well maintained trail the whole way.

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Sign Marking the First View Point Along the Pyles Peak Trail.

Eventually, you’ll arrive at the second of two viewing areas (the first is marked by a sign should you want to take a minute to enjoy the scenery). At the second view deck is where you will begin the final ascent to the top of Pyles Peak. The final push starts with a few switchbacks that give way to the last and steepest of the day’s climbs. When the trail levels out again you’ll find yourself in an open area with some flat rocks scattered about. Don’t stop here, continue ahead until you find the sign marking the summit of Pyles Peak.

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View Point With Wooden Coral, the Final Push to the Top of Pyles Peak Begins Here.

Congratulations, you’ve reached the hardest of the 5 peaks within the Mission Trails Regional Park 5 Peak Challenge! Once you’re ready to head back to your car, just follow your footsteps back the way you came (yes, back up Cowles Mountain again, too).

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Summit Sign Atop Pyles Peak!

Godspeed.

Cowles Mountain – Northeast Approach

Key Hike Statistics:

Distance, Trail Style: 5 miles, Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: ~1400 feet
Popularity: Moderate
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
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.

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Cowles Mountain Northeast Trailhead near Big Rock Park on Mesa Road.

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.

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Sign marking the  junction to the Mesa Road alternate trail. Often has dog bowls.

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.

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Sign marking the Cowles Mountain Service Road junction.

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.

 

Godspeed.

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Monument at the summit of Cowles Mountain!

Cowles Mountain – East Approach

 

Key Hike Statistics:

Distance, Trail Style: 3 miles, Out & Back or Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: ~1000 feet
Popularity: High
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: At Trailhead
Parking: Along Street Near Service Road Gate
Trailhead: Cowles Mountain East Trailhead on Barker Way

If you want to avoid the large crowds on the popular south side while not lengthening your hike to the Cowles Mountain summit then the east approach is your route. The east approach begins from Barker Way, a small neighborhood street off of the main thoroughfare of Navajo Road.

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Vehicle Gate Marks the Start of the Cowles Mountain Service Road & East Approach Trails

From the trailhead you’ll have the option of staying on the service road to the right or splitting off on the narrow hiking trail to the left. Both will eventually get you to the peak but offer slightly different experiences up the mountain. The service road is wide and great for trail running and mountain biking while the hiking trail winds partially up the mountain through the chaparral growth before it meets up with the service road for the final push to the summit. If you choose the spur trail route, you’ll have another decision to make as you make your way towards the top. You can either take the Barker Spur Trail East which cuts over to the Service Road earlier than your second option, Barker Spur West. You’ll want to make sure that if you skip the East Spur that you don’t miss the West Trail turn off. If you should miss the turn, you’ll end up on the front side of the mountain (South Approach) with the rest of San Diego.

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.

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Monument Marking the Cowles Mountain Summit

Godspeed.

Cowles Mountain – South Approach

Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 3 miles, Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: ~950 feet
Popularity: Very High
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
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.

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Refreshments and Restrooms at the Parking Lot with the Trail Behind

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.

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Monument at the Top of Cowles Mountain.

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.

Godspeed.

Rose Canyon

Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 3.5 miles, out & back
Difficulty: Very Easy
Elevation Gain: ~100 feet
Popularity: Moderate
Best Time: All Day, Year Round
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: None
Parking: Street Parking .2 Mile North of Trailhead
Trailhead: Rose Canyon Trailhead

For many San Diegans the Rose Canyon Open Space provides an ideal spot for walking, jogging, or an easy bike ride within the city center. Due to the relative flatness, soft ground and mostly wide trial conditions, this trail is a very easy hike. My wife and I took our 4 month old daughter for a stroll on a grey afternoon in Winter.

The Rose Canyon Trailhead offers no parking on site as the entrance rests off of busy Genesee Avenue just south of Highway 52 in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego. Street parking can be found .2 mile north of the trailhead on Decoro Street. From there, you’ll simply walk down the hill (south) along Genesee Avenue.

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Signage marking the Rose Canyon Trailhead.

You’ll see a nice big sign marking the trail entrance. The trail is quite wide with some small spur trails near the beginning where you’ll find a few signs marking some of the varieties of plants that can be found along the trail. Mostly, the trail is lined with willow and sycamore but be watchful with dogs and kids in spots as you will spot poison oak lining the trail from time to time. The trail follows the Rose Creek stream bed making the conditions just right for this irritating foliage.

Poison Oak intertwined with some other trail side shrubs.
Poison Oak intertwined with some other trail side shrubs.

Once you’ve tread 1.5 miles from the trail entrance you’ll see a post marking your distance. This is a good spot to turn around if you’re just out for a leisurely stroll with kids or pups. We pressed on a bit further to see what the trail looked like past this point. In the book, Jerry Schad only details up to this point in the trail.

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The 1.5 mile marker is a great place to turn around and head back to the trailhead.

From the 1.5 mile marker the trail begins to narrow and become much more rocky, this made navigating this section with our sleeping daughter in her jogger a bit of a challenge but we managed. Eventually, the trail will cross the creek bed a couple of times. The first crossing being a well-built foot bridge with hand rails and the like. As you press on and the trail begins to become noticeably narrower and less groomed you’ll come to the second crossing of the creek: two planks spanning what was a murky algae filled creek. This is the area where we decided to turn around and head back. Simply retracing our steps to get back to our car.

Algae filled Rose Creek with a board bridge served as our turn around point.
Algae filled Rose Creek with a board bridge served as our turn around point.
Our youngest 'hiker' enjoying the ride over the first creek crossing foot bridge.
Our youngest ‘hiker’ enjoying the ride over the first creek crossing foot bridge.

Godspeed.