Cowles Mountain Trail

MODERATE 2946 reviews

Cowles Mountain Trail is a 3 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near San Diego, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, running, and mountain biking and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Distance: 3.0 miles Elevation Gain: 908 feet Route Type: Out & Back

dogs on leash

kid friendly

hiking

mountain biking

running

views

wild flowers

rocky

no shade

The scenic pathway up Cowles Mountain is one of the most popular trails in San Diego County. The trailhead starts in the San Carlos neighborhood on the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road and summits the highest point in the City of San Diego. Visitors will enjoy great views during the entire ascent but the summit offers 360 degree panoramic views of downtown San Diego, Mexico, North County and Orange County on a clear day.

23 hours ago

Great hike for family, couples, dogs, or trail runners. We saw lots of all those hiker types. Lots of people on the trail though, a little too crowded on the weekends.

hiking
1 day ago

It’s over crowded. We went on a Saturday mid morning.

hiking
no shade
2 days ago

hiking
muddy
rocky
5 days ago

Awesome trail, packed with Sunday morning hikers! A bit wet, muddy and rocky! Had been a few years since last time I hiked it! Seemed longer maybe I’m just older n not as energetic as I used to be! Overall great hike!

hiking
rocky
6 days ago

hiking
rocky
6 days ago

Solid climb, 1.5miles uphill the whole time. Extremely busy, but happy to have had the chance to see the highest peak in city limits. Dogs had a blast l!

recorded 133th

hiking
closed
rocky
7 days ago

hiking
rocky
scramble
8 days ago

Took us an hour to complete. Me and a mildly fit buddy ran the whole thing. Had some fun switch backs and turns. I’d recommend highly if you took it slow

hiking
muddy
9 days ago

hiking
11 days ago

Great challenging trail. Very crowded any day of the week so come early to avoid some of it.

hiking
rocky
scramble
14 days ago

The "Cowles" Less Traveled The everso popular Cowles Mountain has another side that most folks have not explored. Entering Cowles off of Barker Way is a very different experience than the popularized route. The trail is considered moderate, although, the signs may read "difficult". It is difficult if you are inebriated, or high, or have a pessimistic mindset, or are a complainer, or only began your exercise regime the day you tried this trail, or have medical issues that involve the heart. Otherwise, here are the top 5 reasons to try the "better half." First, you can find parking because the entry is within a neighborhood. You may have to trek an additional block or two but it's worth it. Respect the neighborhood. There is only one outhouse and the malodor is vomit producing. Second, this particular trail is the service road and allows not only dogs but horses, bikes, and emergency vehicles only. With that being said, the trail is a size and a half wide of a car, not too many travelers and you can hike with a strong steady pace. Trust this, the incline for 1.5 miles ranges from 45 to 65 degrees, my speculation. The trail is well maintained with rocks, dirt and gravel, uneven ground, a few ditches, and there is no let up on oxygen. Third, dog etiquette. Yes, you may bring your pet. Dog's must be leashed. Yes, your dog-- that never barks or attacks anyone. Leash your dog, clean up after your dog. It is frustrating to bask in the breeze and then smell dog poop and step in dog poop and then watch you, as the caretaker allow your dog to do his/her thing and ignore that the trail is shared. Same mantra for your horse, cat, rabbit or any pet. Fourth, the trail accommodates many levels of challenge each step you take. If you are a novice you will have a vigorous walking workout. If you are intermediate you can challenge the course and run 3 minutes/walk two minutes the entire 1.5 incline. If you are advanced you can run the entire trail. The variety of the fitness plans you can create on this mountain can last an entire year. Even young children will find the hike exhilarating...unless you have whiny, complaining children. Keep in mind the trail is mostly sun until it is an hour or so prior to sunset. The views are stunning but the sun is a stunner. As it is closer to sunset, the shade is refreshing. Fifth, seriously be prepared. Every post speaks about water and sunscreen. I will add snacks, hiking boots or ankle sneakers. If you are into the hiking culture, invest in boots $100.00 or less. Walking on rocks, gravel, boulders, and other trail dynamics can take a toll on the body. Keep a multi-wear headband on your person. Compression socks for kiddos and adults and/or hiking socks are the best even for short hikes. No-nos: heels, vans, slick bottoms, jeans, or flip-flops...I have seen them and shake my head. Enjoy Cowles' other half and I'd like to know if the tips helped your hike be more enjoyable.

hiking
muddy
no shade
rocky
15 days ago

15 days ago

Too many dogs! Too crowded! One and done for me.

hiking
no shade
rocky
15 days ago

super crowded trail, and straight up on the way up....needless to say, totally worth it!

hiking
no shade
rocky
scramble
15 days ago

hiking
15 days ago

This hike is steep, but short and can be done in about an hour if you’re moving at a fast pace. If you’re looking for a view of San Diego, then you’ll love this hike. If you love people, then you’ll really love this hike. This trail is heavily trafficked and dodging other hikers is almost unavoidable. Get here early to beat the sun, the crowds, and to get a good parking spot. I once arrived here after 9 AM and my walk to the trailhead was longer than the hike to the peak. By the way, this mountain is pronounced “coals”.

hiking
rocky
15 days ago

A very enjoyable hike! The first part is the most difficult as it is uphill and rocky. There are parts where you are almost climbing boulders, but it’s definitely manageable. We went earlyish (8:20 or so) and there were already quite a few people hiking as well. It was much busier on the way back down. Our dog loved the hike, especially jumping up and down the rocky sections. There are quite a few places along the trail that offer great views of San Diego and I definitely recommend it! While it is not the easiest hike, we saw lots of little kids that were managing pretty well. This rates it as moderate, but the trail marker at the top rates it at difficult. I’d say your skill level would make it either easier or more difficult for you. Worth a try if you haven’t done it yet! Mornings are likely better as you get some shade. There is not much shade later in the day.

backpacking
no shade
16 days ago

short but all uphill

hiking
rocky
16 days ago

The trailhead is easy to find and a bathroom is available. The trail is pretty rocky but totally doable. If you have bad knees or ankles, I would not recommend this trail. There were some muddy sections of the trail but nothing too bad. Overall, the trail is pretty well marked. Just completed this as a night hike. The views of the city lights are outrageous! As you climb the views continue to get more amazing. At the top there are garbage cans and enough space to get away from others. The trail was lightly trafficked even at night. Amazing little gem of a hike!

hiking
rocky
17 days ago

Fun and fairly easy trail for a family. We did the trail with our 6 year old and she loved it and didn’t have much trouble. The only cons I have for this trail is about how busy the trail is, there must have been 1,000 people on the trail and we started it at about 3:45pm. Overall a great, fairly easy hike with some beautiful views of San Diego

hiking
muddy
rocky
18 days ago

Very full there’s only like 20 or so parking spots so it’s super hard to get a parking spot inside most ppl park in the street. Saw a lot of ppl with their dogs Not too hard holed up with my 2 kids and they were fine just brought snacks etc to entertain.

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