Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
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Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak

At 1,592ft, Cowles Mountain is the highest peak in the city of San Diego. The hike to the summit of Cowles is possibly the most popular hiking route in all of San Diego County, which makes an early start a requirement for weekend outings. Hiking to the nearby Pyles Peak is far less popular, and the perfect addition to a hike up Cowles.

At 1,592ft, Cowles Mountain is the highest peak in the city of San Diego. The hike to the summit of Cowles is possibly the most popular hiking route in all of San Diego County, which makes an early start a requirement for weekend outings. Hiking to the nearby Pyles Peak is far less popular, and the perfect addition to a hike up Cowles.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park


Directions And GPS Tracks:

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Street Parking

Key Points:

  • Distance: 6 miles (3 miles if only hiking to Cowles Mountain)
  • Elevation Gain: 1854 ft
  • Minimum Elevation: 668 ft
  • Maximum Elevation: 1592 ft
  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash
  • Permit Required: No
  • Parking: Parking lot at trailhead and street parking for overflow
  • Season: Year Round
  • Trail Condition: The trail is somewhat steep, well maintained, well marked, and easy to follow
  • Cell Phone Reception: Very good

Make sure to hike with the right gear. See my current hiking gear list. 


Hike Map And Elevation Profile:

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional ParkHiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park


Hike Description:

0.0 Miles- As I mentioned in the intro, this is a very popular hike that can get very crowded. Make sure to arrive early. I started this hike at 6:30 AM to make sure I’d have enough time and space to enjoy the trail. There are restrooms located at the trailhead next to the signage for “Cowles Mountain Staging Area”.

The first quarter mile of hiking is very gradual, but the incline quickly increases. Take time to enjoy the blooming wildflowers (seasonal), and don’t forget to look back at the city views that will increase with every step upward.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Trailhead
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Entrance
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
First Steps

The trail for Cowles Mountain is in great condition, but the rainy season can leave sections rutted, and erosion can expose stones that will leave unprotected feet tender. Make sure to wear good trail shoes with grip and protection for this hike. You can check out my guide to finding the perfect trail shoe if you’re in need of a new pair.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Heading Up
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
City Views

0.5 Miles- You’ll have a view with two peaks up ahead. The trails wraps around the first hill to the right and then Cowles will be the higher mountain to the left.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Cowles Ahead
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Rocky Ground

0.9 Miles- You’ll see the junction for the Barker Damn Trail. This is another trailhead start option if you’d prefer to avoid the high traffic found at the Cowles Mountain Staging Area. Keep left at the junction to continue on to Cowles Mountain.

Just after passing the Barker Dam trail junction, you’ll scale a series of switchbacks that will take you to the summit of Cowles Mountain.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Go Left At The Barker Dam Trail Sign
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Switchback Views

1.5 Miles- At 1.5 miles you’ll be standing at the summit of Cowles Mountain. Take a look around, enjoy the views, and then make your way to the north end of the summit towards the antennas.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
A Reference To The View
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Cowles Summit Marker
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Summit Crowds

When you see the antennas and a rock outcrop take a left (west) to pick up the Pyles Peak Trail. You’ll see a small brown sign close to the ground that reads Pyles Peak Trail.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Antennae
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Trail On The Left
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Trail Signage

After hiking uphill to the summit of Cowles Mountain, you’ll have two descents and two ascents before reaching the summit of Pyles Peak. You’ll be able to catch glimpses of Pyles Peak and Kwaay Paay Peak up ahead.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Heading Down The First Descent
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Morning Views

2.3 Miles- You’ll see a sign for “View Point”. This is a short side trail that takes hikers to a viewpoint between Pyles and Cowles. Continue on towards Pyles Peak by continuing straight ahead.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Cowles View Peak
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Almost There

2.6 Miles- You’ll see the final trail sign for Pyles Peak with a view of the summit above.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Trail To The Summit

3.0 Miles- You’re standing on the 1,379ft summit of Pyles Peak. From this point, you can turn around and return to the trailhead on the same path that you arrived with.

Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Pyles Peak
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Summit Views
Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak In Mission Trails Regional Park
Cowles Peak

I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

10 comments on “Hiking Cowles Mountain And Pyles Peak

  1. I really love how you broke this down bit by bit. Amazing photos too!

  2. Reblogged this on COLLEGE MATE.

  3. Mike Hohmann

    Nice spot, Drew. A great place for that early morning hike/run before a hearty brunch!

  4. I’ll be in San Diego at the beginning of June. I’m going to take one morning to head to Campo and the Southern Terminus of the PCT, but if I have time I may hit this hike up as well. Thanks for the guide!

    • Visiting Campo should be a lot of fun. I actually did this hike as part of the Mission Trails Regional Park 5 Peak Challenge. Right after Cowles and Pyles, I did Kwaay Paay, South Fortuna, and North Fortuna. I’ll be posting those a little later this week. If you have some time, it’s a nice little challenge: http://www.mtrp.org/five_peaks01

  5. Great article. I’ll definitely add San Diego to my wish list. Cheers.

    • Thanks! I’ve been trying to make the drive down to San Diego for some hiking while I wait out the snowy peaks here in the San Gabriels.

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