Kwaay Paay Peak (Mission Trails Regional Park)

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Kwaay Paay Peak in Mission Trails Regional Park doesn’t receive nearly the amount of traffic that its more popular neighbor Cowles Mountain does. This makes it a great alternative for hikers looking for a quick mountain climbing workout but who don’t want to contend with an overcrowded trail and a dearth of parking. Kwaay Paay is somewhat shorter and not quite as tall as Cowles, but in my opinion actually makes for a more intense workout since it lacks the gentle switchbacks of its nearby cousin.

There are several different spots you can park at for easy access to the Kwaay Paay Peak trail. The most straightforward is to park at the Mission Dam parking lot, which is directly across the street from one of two possible starting points for Kwaay Paay. If this lot is full, you can also park along the side of the road leading up to the parking lot.

The only drawback to these two alternatives is that the entrance gate gets locked in the evenings (at 5pm during the winter months, and at 7pm during Daylight Savings Time). Many an unwary hiker has found their car locked in with a note from a ranger because their hike took longer than expected or they just didn’t notice the signs listing the closing time.

But you are allowed to just park outside said gates, walk into the park, and stay as late as you want. Since we were doing this hike in the late afternoon after work, we decided to go with this option and not have to worry about what time we finished. So we parked our car at the lot on the corner of Bushy Hill Road and Father Junipero Serra Trail, across from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground. This lot is outside of the gates and doesn’t get locked. And conveniently, there is an alternate trailhead for Kwaay Paay Peak closer to this lot than the one near the Mission Dam lot.

From the parking lot at Bushy Hill Road, we walked along the paved Father Junipero Serra road for less than ¼ mile to the trailhead on the left side of the road.
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Turning up the dirt path, we walked along for a hundred feet or so then turned right, following the signs for the Kwaay Paay trail. The left fork leads to another route that runs behind some houses and eventually converges with the Kwaay Paay summit trail. This is a slightly longer and less strenuous route.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5572

Our goal this evening was a workout, so we were choosing the less forgiving route. The trail began a no-nonsense climb straight up the side of the mountain – no messing around with switchbacks here.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5574-Edit

We quickly reached the top of the first incline and already had a fantastic view of the Grasslands area of Mission Trails.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5577-Edit

Continuing on we found a short, more level section lined with a wooden fence.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5579-Edit

We enjoyed the easy stretch while it lasted, admiring the deep green hillsides. The trail began to climb uphill again (albeit more gently here), and at .4 miles in we noticed a trail branching in from the left. This is where the alternate path we had noted at the start met up with the main trail.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5585-Edit

At .45 miles another trail joined up with our path from the right. This was the trail that starts near the dam parking area.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5587-Edit

The steep incline soon resumed. The trail finally made a token zig zag up the mountainside rather than the previous straight on assault.20150225Kwaay Payy Peak_SKDSC_7521-Edit

We found some wildflowers beginning to bloom along the edge of the trail.
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At .9 mile the trail leveled as we crossed a small shoulder, then the uphill climbing began again with a vengeance.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5607-Edit
The trail was not quite as well maintained along this stretch. We found a lot of old stonework, boards, and burlap, that were undoubtedly once placed here to help combat erosion but appeared to be losing the battle.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_SKDSC_7547-Edit

Other sections were faring somewhat better.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5610-Edit

The trail narrowed and the surrounding brush closed in around us as we made our way up the rocky slope.20150225Kwaay Paay PeakDSC_7556-Edit

Finally the trail began to level out and we made our way to the top. The official summit is difficult to discern as the top of the peak is pretty flat and mostly covered in thick brush. But we followed the trail to its end, and at 1.2 miles found an open area with some rocks that are perfectly situated for sitting upon and admiring the view. To the east was Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5637-Edit

To the southwest was the hazy outline of downtown and the bay.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5624-Edit

And directly across from us were the Fortuna mountains.20150225Kwaay Paay Peak_DSC5625-Edit
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After enjoying the views, we turned around and headed back the way we had come.

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From Mission Gorge Road, head west on Father Junipero Serra Trail for approximately .1 mile. At the stop sign, turn left and park in the lot at the corner of Bushy Hill Drive and Father Junipero Serra Trail. Walk up Father Junipero Serra Trail about 1/4 mile to find the trailhead on your left. map

Total Distance: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 900 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: No bikes allowed
Facilities: Bathrooms and water available at Kumeyaay Lake Campground; Port-a-potties available at Mission Dam parking lot
Fees/Permits: None

For more information visit:
Mission Trails Regional Park
Interactive Trail Map
View route on Google Maps

One thought on “Kwaay Paay Peak (Mission Trails Regional Park)

  1. This past winter the Trail Volunteer Crew at Mission Trails did alot of work on the Kwaay Paay Peak Trail and so it is a lot more user freindly now. Also, the signage on the trail has been updated since the article was published.

    Great hike!