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.
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.
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.
At .9 mile the trail leveled as we crossed a small shoulder, then the uphill climbing began again with a vengeance.
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.
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 Peak
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|
|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|