The short and steep approach to the highest point in San Diego.


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Cowles Mountain claims the superlative of the highest point within San Diego at 1,593 feet, though it’s only taller than some nearby mountains by a little bit.

It is indeed a worthy hike, with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain in a relatively short distance, and the summit views are well worth the effort. On top is a 360-degree view that stretches to Mexico.

Hike early in the morning, or on a crisp winter day, for the best chance at clear air.

With decent visibility, you can see the skyline of San Diego and Point Loma beyond.

Gazing south along the coast you’ll see San Diego Bay and Silver Strand.

On an especially clear day, you can see Los Coronados Islands of Mexico and the coast where Tijuana lies. Multiple trails lead up Cowles Mountain from different starting points in Mission Trails Regional Park, but the Cowles Mountain Trail is the most direct and most popular.

It begins from the trailhead on Golfcrest Drive.

The parking lot is quite small, but you can park along the road and walk in if it’s full.

The wide dirt path begins gaining elevation immediately, on a thinly vegetated and very sunny slope.

You’ll soon get nice views over surrounding neighborhoods and the blue water of Lake Murray. Granite rocks dot the slopes, and you’ll pass some particularly large boulders on the trail’s upper reaches, where the terrain becomes steeper and more rugged.

You’ll have to negotiate rock and wood steps in places, but wooden rails are in place on the steepest sections of switchbacks.

The deliberate ascent ends with one final, rugged incline and suddenly you’re on top.

At the summit are a few informational plaques and signs labeling surrounding landmarks, and of course, the well-earned panorama to enjoy. Sources