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Cowles Mountain

Climb Cowles Mountain for Free Outdoor Fun in San Diego

Although the downtown district of San Diego offers visitors beautiful views of the city and the ocean, for one of the most stunning views, you must take a trip to Cowles Mountain. As the highest point in San Diego, peaking at 1,592 feet, this mountain in the middle of the San Carlos neighborhood has become the most popular hiking trail in the city, and the top spot for unparalleled views. And with no fee to climb the mountain, it’s a great way for budget conscious tourists to experience the nature of San Diego.

History of Cowles Mountain

The mountain is named after George Cowles (pronounced “kohls”) who was one of San Diego’s ranching pioneers, helping to bring the railroad to the San Diego area in the 1800s. The mountain was part of the many pieces of land Cowles and his wife owned when they first moved to San Diego. However, following Cowles passing, his widow remarried and her new husband renamed much of the estate to his own name, leaving Cowles Mountain as one of the few legacies left with the Cowles title.

What Should you Expect when Visiting?

The 1.5 mile main trail has a steady but gradual elevation climb, making the trail a great option for hikers with small children or individuals simply interested in a quiet walk during their vacation. It is well populated throughout most of the day, but not to the point where it feels overly crowded. However, because of its popularity, it’s important to note that the parking lot is small and fills up quickly so hikers who arrive later in the day need to be prepared for a short walk if they have to park on the side streets.

The trails are dirt packed with some switchbacks and steep inclines. The main trail at Golfcrest Drive is where the visitor’s center is located. Restrooms, water fountains, and information about the mountain can all be found here.

  • Barker Way trail head has twenty five switchbacks over 1.05 miles before intersecting with the main trail.
  • Big Rock Park trail head is the least populated because of its challenging ascent.
  • Mesa Road trail head cuts through the dense chaparral, sometimes so high that it seems like hikers are going through a tunnel of foliage.

From the summit, downtown San Diego peeks up from the distance, framed by the distant Pacific Ocean. On very clear days, hikers can see as far as Tijuana and the Cabrillo National Monument, making the view from Cowles Mountain a true 360 degree sight.

After Your Workout

Climbing Cowles Mountain is sure to work up an appetite! So after your climb and descent, head back to downtown San Diego and grab a bite to eat. As a hotel near Little Italy, we always suggest that visitors head to one of the local cafes for a fresh salad, Panini or pasta dish.

Interested in staying at our cheap San Diego hotel? Contact a Reservation Manager at 1-800-571-2933 to learn about our discounted rates. We know that travel can sometimes be restricted by budget, and therefore offer affordable low rates throughout the year, as well as a variety of hotel deals.

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