Cowels mountain is far from a secret spot, but it is a great, easy hike to do that is perfect for sunrises and sunsets. With well-maintained trails, and relatively short ascent (just about 3 miles round trip) some people run the entire trail several times for a workout! It’s central location (just minutes off the I-8 SDSU exit) and the fact that it is the tallest mountain in San Diego City proper (1,593 feet tall) gives you 360 amazing degree views stretching from the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains in the East, Mexico down South, downtown and the Pacific Ocean to the West, and Mira Mesa to the North. It takes between 30-60 minutes from bottom to top depending on your fitness level. We went the other day for sunrise and made it to the top in just over 30 minutes – giving us about 3 minutes to catch our breath before enjoying the sun peak over the horizon.
Warning* This is a popular spot, especially on sunny weekend days during Fall, Winter and Spring and at some points it’s so packed the people going up and down resemble a trail of ants! If you are looking for a more secluded hike, then you may want to try Iron Mountain, Potato Chip Rock, or a Beach Hike.
Directions to Cowels Mountain
Cowels Mountain is located at 7055 Golfcrest Drive, San Diego, CA 92119
Driving on the I-8, take the College Ave. exit towards College Ave. North. After about 1.3 miles, take a right on Navajo Road. In 2 miles take a left on Golfcrest Drive. The parking lot is pretty small but luckily there is plenty of street parking. On Busy days you may need to do a little warm up hike just to get to the parking lot!
History of Cowels Mountain
Cowels Mountain is named for George Cowels who was an early rancher in San Diego county. Cowels is commonly pronounced similar to howls or vowels, but should in fact be pronounced similar to “Kohls”. From the 1930’s up through the 80’s, Cowels Mountain was known as “S” Mountain as students from San Diego State University painted and maintained a large S (over 400 feet tall) on the side of the mountain. There was a brief period during World Ward II that the military orders that the S be covered, but after the war ended, the tradition continued. During the 70’s and 80’s the tradition fizzled out due to complaints from environmentalists and others.
Cowels Mountain is part of the Mission Trails Regional Park. For more information, visit their website