Cowles Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in San Diego but it is so for a reason.  Cowles Mountain 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 city, the Coronado Mountains, and Mission Gorge. This is a great hike for those new to hiking.

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 is now incredibly popular. This hike is great for hiking novices. The views and accessibility to the peak make this a great hike for those new to San Diego or Visiting for the first time.  I personally think the views of this hike are great for how close to the city this trail is. I also used to use this trail to run up and down (yes, I know that sounds crazy) to train for mud runs. The hike has also become a popular trail to do at night to see the view of the city during dark.

However, because of the ease of accessibility, it’s my personal opinion that Cowles Mountain is ridiculously overcrowded. Despite the crowds, people run down the mountain at excessively fast speeds and could crash into those hiking up. There’s also a large amount of inconsiderate people filling the air with whatever they’re listening to with their backpack 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. So, 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.

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 trail head 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. 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: If you’re new to hiking, this is a perfect hike for new hikers or those not used to getting physical activity. 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 good hike year round with the exception of hot summer days. Hot summer temperatures can range in the 90’s-100’s and I wouldn’t recommend this hike during that time. Because the hike is short, the hike can still be an option early at down or towards dusk. If the temperatures are still near 100 in the evening, use caution.

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. The trail has no cover to sun or other elements so be prepared for sun. The trail is mostly dirt with numerous switchbacks. In some places the trail can be steep for several feet with 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.