TRAINING HIKES: Local Trails Used for Training for the Pacific Crest Trail

When preparing for a long distance hike, such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), it’s important to make sure you are in the best possible shape prior to setting out. This will decrease the risk of injury as you start making your way through the trail and increase the mileage you can do right from the get go. It is for that reason the Sloggers have a list of hikes that we like to do during the week that don’t even require leaving the city. San Diego, like many great large metropolitan areas, has saved some land for the city dwellers to be able to get outside and on a trail and get a good workout with just a short drive within the city limits.

This is, by no means, a full list of the hikes that our group likes to hike in town but this post will cover two of the longer local hikes that have some elevation gain/loss and are a great way for us to keep our butts in gear. Both of these hikes are within an area in San Diego known as Mission Trail Regional Park which is an invaluable space in the city that many people come to to get outside and move around.

The first hike we’ll talk about is what we call the Fortuna Double. There are two peaks within Mission Trail Regional Park called North Fortuna and South Fortuna. There are multiple ways to get to each peak but our usual way of reaching the peaks is to traverse the saddle between them and then go up to one peak and double back to the other and then head back down the saddle. The saddle is what makes these peaks a good workout as the first mile and a half from the parking lot is mostly flat and skirts the Mission Dam and San Diego River that flows through the area. Then you come to the saddle where you’ll climb upward on a service road for about half a mile. Once you’ve made it up to the top of the saddle you’ll catch your breath and pick a peak, either North Fortuna (to your right) or South Fortuna (to your left). Personally, I prefer to do North Fortuna first but it really doesn’t matter which order you tackle them in.

View West From North Fortuna, a Favorite Training Hike for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)
View West From North Fortuna, a Favorite Training Hike for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Once you’ve bagged both peaks you’ll head back down the saddle in the direction you came and retrace your steps back past the dam and to the parking lot. Here are the stats for this hike:

Stats for North and South Fortuna Hike from the Parking Lot on Father Junipero Serra Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Stats for North and South Fortuna Hike from the Parking Lot on Father Junipero Serra Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)

The other hike I’ll describe in this post is on the other side of Mission Trail Regional Park and includes the highest peak within the park, Cowles Mountain, which is a great training hike on its own. However, this hike continues on from the peak of Cowles Mountain to a second peak known as Pyles Peak. There are multiple trails to the top of Cowles Mountain but only one trail from the peak there over to Pyles Peak. My preferred route up Cowles is to park on the street at the intersection of Prostpect Avenue and Mesa Road. There is a park, just on the other side of a fence, known as Big Rock Park which is what most people would know this area as. From Big Rock Park you’ll follow the trail as it climbs and dips at times making its way up to the Cowles Mountain service road after about a mile and a half from the park. Once you reach the service road, you’ll follow that to the peak of Cowles Mountain, which becomes fairly steep towards the top where you’ll get the most challege in this workout.

View of Cowles Mountain (the Peak with the Radio Tower) from South Fortuna. (Click Image for Larger View.)
View of Cowles Mountain (the Peak with the Radio Tower) from South Fortuna. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Once at the peak of Cowles Mountain, you’ll continue straight ahead where you will find the trail sign marking the trail over to Pyles Peak. From here, the trail descends down a bit skirting the ride line of a couple smaller mounds and then begins the ascent towards your next destination. You’ll come to a bit of a fork in the trail after maybe two-thirds of a mile. At this fork you can either go off to the right and scramble up the back side of Pyles Peak where some small trails give way to some light rock scrambling (this is the less traveled but sometimes more fun and probably more challenging path) or you can continue on the main trail to the left which descends slightly and takes you around to the ‘front’ side of Pyles Peak where the trail leads you up to the top. To get back to your car you’ll retrace your steps back to Cowles Mountain and eventually back to Big Rock Park. Here are the stats for my last hike of Pyles Peak from Big Rock Park:

Pyles Peak Via Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Park is a Favorite Local Hike to Train for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Pyles Peak Via Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Park is a Favorite Local Hike to Train for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)