Cowles Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in San Diego but it is so for a reason.  This is a short out and back trail that features incredible views of the surrounding local San Diego mountains including Mount Woodson, Iron Mountain, Black Mountain, and the peaks in Cleveland National Forest. Cowles Mountain also has great views of the downtown San Diego, the Coronado islands, and the rest of Mission Trails Regional Park.

Cowles Mountain Via Golfcrest Drive Trail

Cowles Mountain is a very heavily trafficked trail in San Diego located within Mission Trails Regional Park. The peak was named after an early ranching pioneer who settled El Cajon in 1877 by the name of George A. Cowles. A little known fun fact is that most people pronounces this peak wrong. The correct pronunciation is actual like the word coal. The peak of Cowles Mountain is the tallest peak within the  San Diego City limit at 1,593 feet.

There are a few different ways to get to the peak of Cowles Mountain but for the sake of this article, I’ll be focusing on the Golfcrest Drive trail head. Cowles Mountain has become incredibly popular over the years. The views and accessibility to the peak make this a great hike for those new to San Diego, visiting the area, or those new to hiking. The trail is also popular for people to hike during the night. 

One A Personal Note: 

I personally think the views of this hike are great for how close to the city this trail is. However, because of the ease of accessibility, it’s my personal opinion that Cowles Mountain is ridiculously overcrowded. There’s also a large amount of inconsiderate people filling the air with whatever music they’re listening to on their speakers. The crowds have unfortunately also become an opportunity for the scum of the earth to prey on all the parked vehicles in the area. The parking lot and Golfcrest Street is littered with broken car glass from those whose cars have been broken into. Make sure you keep all important things out of view or better yet, take them with you or leave them at home.Despite the negatives, Cowles Mountain is still a fun hike to do.

Have you recently done this hike? Please post your photos in or leave an update to the trail conditions in the comments section.

  • Overall Difficulty: 60% 60%
  • Overall Views: 55% 55%
Cowles Mountain via Golfcrest Drive Quick Facts:
  • Estimated Distance:  2.9 miles.
  • Elevation gain: 912 feet.
  • Estimated Time: 1.5 hours.
  • My time: 45 minutes.
Cowles Mountain via Golfcrest Drive Directions:
Open in maps. There is a very small parking lot at the entrance to the trailhead off of Golfcrest Drive that is often full. Street parking also fills up on Golfcrest Drive early in the morning and late in the afternoon near sunset. If street parking is full, people usually find parking along the street in the adjacent neighborhood. If you park in that neighborhood, please keep in mind that these are people with families so please be respectful to their neighborhood by limiting noise and garbage. As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately this trail can be prone to auto theft so use caution.
Cowles Mountain Pictures:
Who Cowles Mountain via Golfcrest Drive Is For:
Novice Hikers: This is a great hike for those new to hiking. This is the exact type of trail to help increase your fitness capabilities for trails of more difficult caliber.The elevation gain is great for getting the heart rate up. Wear comfortable and well supportive shoes to help with ankle support. See more on the trail conditions below.

Advanced Hikers: This hike will be easy.

Expert Hikers: When does the hike start?

It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.

Best Time Of Year To Hike Cowles Mountain:
This is a great hike to do year round with the exception of hot summer days. However, the trail is short enough that it could be done in the earlier and cooler dawn and dusk hours when it’s hot. The trail really starts to come alive in early spring when the native vegetation starts to flower. 
Cowles Mountain via Golfcrest Drive Trail Conditions:
The trail is very well maintained not only through heavy traffic but also through a group of volunteers and Mission Trails Regional Park. The trail has no cover to sun or other elements so be prepared. The trail is mostly dirt with numerous switchbacks. In some places the trail can be steep with many loose rocks. Wear comfortable shoes to help with ankle support. Snakes can also be common on the trail, including rattlesnakes. Be prepared on what to do if a rattlesnake is encountered.