Cowles Mountain (1,593-foot summit) is the highest point in the city of San Diego. It’s part of Mission Trails Regional Park, a 5,800-acre open space preserve that is the 7th-largest open space urban park in the United States. It contains sixty miles of hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails.
To call Cowles a mountain is to be very liberal with the word. I should note that the park has a 5 “peak” challenge if your hiking peeps want a minor challenge and want to document your feats – here’s the scoop. Cowles is the highest peak. This might be fun for kids, but apparently lots of adults do it for bragging rights too. I will say that on a clear day, the views stretch out across Lake Murray, downtown San Diego, Point Loma, La Jolla, Mexico and out to the San Carlos Islands are stunning. (Unfortunately, I dropped my camera on a rock so I have limited pics.)
Distance: 2.9 miles up & back
It’s a very popular trail so expect lots of humans and their canines…There are a couple of different ways to reach the top from various starting points and parking lots. The hike itself is moderate (with some steeper sections that will get those calves & glutes burning). It’s decent workout, especially if you run it. There are single track trails and some fire road. It’s short from any direction so I explored up and down on a couple of trails and was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to see. You can’t really get lost so do as much or as little as you like.
The main trailhead is in the San Carlos neighborhood on the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road
Lovely Lake Murray
Since I didn’t quite get enough enough of a workout / nature fix, I decided to check out alluring Lake Murray Reservoir, also part of the Mission Trails Regional Park. I strolled the paved road that navigates around most of the lake stopping short of the dam (no access). It’s another popular spot – walkers, runners, bladders, and even road bikers aplenty (the latter seems silly to me, because the path / road is only 3.2 mi long and there are many children and dogs on it).
Lake Murray is a great spot for birdwatchers with abundant ducks, geese, and herons abound and about 149 bird species to observe. It’s a pleasant spot for a picnic too.
Lake Murray is open for shore fishing and private boats, kayaks, and float tubes seven days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Permits can be purchased onsite at the iron ranger boxes. The lake is stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, black crappie, and trout. Minimum size limit for bass is 12 inches.
Fish limits: 5 trout, 5 bass (min. 12 inches), 5 catfish, 25 crappie and bluegill total, no other species limits