Outbound Collective logo

Hike Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Road

Santee, California



4.5 miles

Elevation Gain

1150 ft

Route Type



Added by Jenna Ferrieri

Cowles Mountain offers a nice workout hike or trail run in San Diego that offers stunning views all around. This hike is great for an after-work adventure or a weekend trip. The trail from Big Rock Road is a less-traveled route than the main Cowles Mountain Trailhead and therefore offers some reprieve from the crowds on the trail during the popular hiking weekends in the summer.

A fantastic trip is to set off before sunset, take in the sunset from the peak, and hike down as the beautiful colors dissipate from the sky. Be sure to bring along a friend a good beverage to enjoy during the sunset...and a headlamp for the hike down!

This is a 4.5 mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of about 1150 feet.

To access Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Road, head east out of San Diego toward Mission Trails Regional Park. Heading east on Mission Gorge Road, you will turn right onto Big Rock Road and then head to the end. The trailhead should be obvious at the dead end of the road, right between two houses. Parking is generally easy to find on the street right around the trailhead, but be mindful that it is a residential neighborhood.

The trail can be thought of as two segments. The first takes you on a foot and bike trail that will dead-end at the Cowles Service Road and the second segment takes you on the service road to the summit. In the first few minutes of the hike, you will pass the junction with the trail from Big Rock Park – stay right to keep on the trail to the summit. Continuing on, you will reach a junction at about 0.8 miles with the Mesa Trail. Again stay right to continue to the summit. In this area, the trail is well marked and wooden steps make the trail seem less steep than it actually is. When the Bog Rock Trail dead ends at the service road, take another right and follow the service road up to the summit. The trail seems to get much steeper due to the lack of steps, but it plateaus every so often so you can stop for a breather.

Once at the summit, be sure to tap the monument at the top of the rock pile to the south to officially say you've topped out on Cowles Mountain. Then spend time exploring around and take a look at the placards that explain the views. After spending your time exploring the summit, just head back the way you came back down to the trailhead.

Note that the Big Rock Trail will get dark quickly since it is on the east side of the mountain. Therefore, be sure to have a light source with you if you are planning to hike this for sunset.

Read More

Download the Outbound mobile app

Find adventures and camping on the go, share photos, use GPX tracks, and download maps for offline use.

Get the app


Adult Beverages
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking


Have you done this adventure? Be the first to leave a review!

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


Cowles Mountain via Big Rock Road

Cowles Mountain via Big Rock Trail

Crystal Cave

Kwaay Paay Trail

Oak Canyon in Mission Trails Regional Park

Pyles Peak