Completing the Mission Trails Regional Park Five Peak Challenge in one day is one of the most difficult trail routes to complete in San Diego. The aim is to complete all five peaks in the park in one day through a sixteen plus mile trail.
Mission Trails Regional Park: Five Peak Challenge In One Day
Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) is the largest city managed park in California. The park is composed of five primary peaks: Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay Peak, and North and South Fortuna Peaks. As a way of encouraging hikers to explore its sixty plus mile trail system, the park has a Five Peak Challenge. Hikers can hike any peak in any order within the course of the year. All finishers receive a certificate and pin. Most people do the challenge over the course of a few separate days.
About five percent of hikers opt to hike all five peaks in one day. This is by no means an easy feat but it is a great accomplishment. There are two ways to complete the challenge in one day. One would be to hike all the peaks as an out and back and drive to each of their trailheads. The other and more popular way is through one long and difficult sixteen plus mile route through the park and surrounding neighborhood.
Hiking the MTRP Five Peak Challenge is a difficult task. It should not be taken lightly and only be completed by advanced hikers. Those hiking the route in one day should have a good base level of fitness and endurance. Once finished, the accomplishment will earn you a bragging right for San Diego hikers.
One Day Five Peak Challenge Tips
- Start at or around sunrise before the perpetual sun beats down on the land.
- You will need to arrange a ride to take you back to where you started. This is a one way trail not a loop or an out and back. I took an UBER back to where I parked my car. Another way would be to get dropped off then picked up.
- The only way to connect the peaks is by walking through the neighborhood adjacent to the east side of MTRP.
- Take way more water than you think you need. Food and energy will also be your friend.
- Mission Gorge Market and Deli and a Subway are located at the intersection of Mission Gorge Road and W Hills Pkwy. Use these to your advantage to refuel.
- Good sun protection will make your day so much more enjoyable.
- Opt for the cooler months in the winter or early spring and preferably an overcast day.
- In order to reach Pyles Peak, Cowles Mountain will have to be hiked first.
Five Peak Challenge One Day Trail Guide
There is essentially one long route to complete the challenge. There may be a couple of slight variations but all peaks are accessed the same way. This route does the peaks in this order: North Fortuna, South Fortuna, Kwaay Paay Peak, Cowles Mountain, and Pyles Peak. This route can also be reversed and North and South Fortuna are interchangeable.
- Park at the Clairemont Mesa Blvd entrance to MTRP and begin the trek east to the Fortunas along the trail straight past the informational sign. Do not go left up the dirt road or right past the bridge.
- Turn left onto the Fortuna Saddle Trail. This trail will be intersected by the Rim Trail and the River Trail but stay on this.
- The Fortuna Saddle Trail is a SDGE utility road that splits between the Fortuna Peaks.
- There will be a crossing with signs for North and South Fortuna Peak access trails. They can be done in no particular order.
- After the Fortuna Peaks are completed, link back up with the Fortuna Saddle Trail and continue east down the backside of the peaks. The utility road will lead into Oak Canyon.
- If it’s a wet year, you’ll know you’re in Oak Canyon when you come across a flowing creek. Otherwise there will be a dry creek bed lined with Oak and Cottonwood trees. Follow this trail to the right (south) to the Old Mission Dam. Avoid getting on the Grasslands Loop Trail
Completing Kwaay Paay Peak
- There will be a large bridge that crosses the San Diego River to link up with the Old Mission Dam. This with take you to Father Junipero Serra Trail.
- Take the Father Junipero Serra Trail east and you’ll pass the trail entrance to Kwaay Paay Peak. Complete this peak and had back down.
- This will then be the most boring part of the trail. After completing Kwaay Paay Peak you’ll have to get through the neighborhood in order to hike Cowles Mountain. This is essentially the half way point. Refuel at Subway or the Mission Gorge Market and Deli.
Finishing Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak
- Continue east on Mission Gorge Road from Father Junipero Serra Trail. Turn right onto Rancho Fanita Road and continue through the neighborhood. Make another right onto Big Rock Road. Follow this until the end and this will be the start of the trailhead to Cowles Mountain.
- Take the Big Rock trailhead entrance to the service road to Cowles Mountain. From Cowles Mountain head on down to Pyles Peak.
- After Pyles Peak, head back to Cowles and take the south side down to the Golfcrest Drive. Congratulations. You’re done!
Five Peak Challenge In One day – A Great Accomplishment
Once done, congratulate yourself. Completing the challenge in one day is one of the most difficult trail routes in San Diego. Submit your selfie summit pictures to MTRP. Once the staff verifies the completion, there will be a confirmation email sent out. Certificates are available to pick up at the visitor center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m..