Cowles Mountain is the tallest point within the City of San Diego, and one of the most popular hikes in the county. There are several different routes up the mountain, the most popular being the southern route starting at Golfcrest and Navajo. Previously, we’d written up the route from Big Rock Park in Santee, and decided today we’d check out the eastern route from Barker Way.
We met up at the trailhead after work on a hazy weekday afternoon. Barker Way, the residential street where the trailhead was located, was bustling. I did my best to drive cautiously and not blast my radio or slam my car door so as to minimize my contribution to the neighborhood disruption, but I guess if you live across the street from a popular trail you have to expect some minor disturbance.
At .1 mile we came to the first junction. To the right, the wide dirt service road continued up the mountain. To the left, a single track, also heading up the mountain, branched off. Either route would bring us to the summit, but we elected to head left along the single track in the hopes that it would be a little less populated.
Before long we had some nice views of El Cajon and a dim outline of the mountains beyond. We could see the distinctive rust-colored and cloud-topped form of the Fletcher Hills water tower in the distance.
At .75 miles we finally turned right to cut across to the service road. You can stay left at this point and still reach the summit. The left fork goes over to the south side of the mountain and connects with the main trail from Golfcrest Drive. We’d done that route plenty of times though, and thus wanted a different route.
For our return trip, we elected to take one of the alternate routes back down. We originally planned to take the service road the whole way, just for a change of scenery, but about .7 miles down the service road found another quiet looking single track that led back down to Barker Way.
This path was very quiet and we only encountered one other hiker on it. Much of it meandered through tall brush which provided a feeling of seclusion and solitude we don’t normally experience hiking Cowles.
Again we encountered several junctions, but all were well marked and we just continued following signs for Barker Way (or heading AWAY from the summit) until we met up with the original trail we had come up on.
Soon enough, we were back at the trailhead and heading home.
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From highway 125, take the Navajo Road exit. Head west on Navajo Road for approximately .8 miles, then turn right onto Boulder Lake Ave. Follow Boulder Lake Ave for .5 mile and turn right onto Barker Way. The trailhead will be on the left side of the road, park along the street and try to be respectful of the residents in the area. map
|Total Distance:||2.9 miles|
|Total Ascent:||911 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed on service road only|
|Facilities:||Port-a-potty at trailhead|