Distance: 5.8 miles roundtrip. Elevation gain: 2,000 ft. An extra challenge when hiking Cowles Mountain. Little known trail takes you away from the crowds on Cowles summit. Numerous lookout points along the trail and from Pyles Peak.

Most people who live in San Diego have heard of, if not hiked, Cowles Mountain.

At 1591 ft., Cowles is the highest peak in the city of San Diego. It's a hugely popular destination for day hikers and trail runners looking to get in a little trail time and take in the 360 degree views the summit has to offer. What most people don't know, however, is that there is more to see and more trail ahead beyond the summit.

Pyles Peak is one of the five peaks located within Mission Trails Regional Park, and the only way to access the peak is via Cowles Mountain Summit.

The trailhead for Pyles Peak sits just about 100 feet northwest from Cowles' summit. To find it, follow the fire road around towards the cell towers at the summit. Near the bend, on the west side of the road is a small sign that indicates the beginning of Pyles Peak Summit Trail.

The 1.5 mile trail quickly descends down into the valley before heading north along the western face of the mountain. Along the way are a number of interesting observation points where you can stop and rest while taking in the views of the surrounding city. Your final stop before heading back will be at the summit of Pyles Peak. Grab a quick snack, snap a photo, and pat yourself on the back for being one of the few adventurous hikers to venture past Cowles Mountain Summit and experience all that the trail has to offer.

Because few people know about Pyles Peak, the trail gets only limited usage. So if you're looking to get in a little nature time, and you don't mind adding a few extra miles to your hike, this is a great place to do it. Just be sure to load up on water and sunscreen, because shade is hard to find on the trail.

Pack List

  • Good hiking or trail running shoes
  • At least two liters of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Smile and a sense of adventure
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Activities Running, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Autumn, Winter
Features
Dog Friendly

Reviews

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Skip the main trail...

...and begin this hike from the Barker Way trail head. Take the way less traveled; you'll merge with the crowd climbing Cowles Mountain for the last quarter mile of their trip, then you'll leave them behind as you head onward to Pyle's Peak alone. This is one of my favorite night hikes.

No Traffic

So nice to get past the Cowles crowds and add some quality miles to your hike! Good range of ups and downs that add 3 miles in to the Cowles grind. I ran in to maybe 3 people the entire trail. Took my dog and had a quiet trail to myself.

over 2 years ago

Stairmaster!

This awesome side hike takes your normal Cowles hike to the next level, adding an extra 3 miles and a steep incline. Very rewarding as there are never any people along this trail, and the views are spectacular!


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