South Fortuna Mountain (Mission Trails Regional Park)

Although South Fortuna is the smallest of Mission Trails’ five peaks, topping out at “only” 1094 feet in elevation, it is still a very popular choice for hikers seeking a workout. The main attraction of South Fortuna is the impressive set of wooden steps that leads up the peak’s western flank. Known by some as the “Stairway to Heaven,” this route travels unapologetically up the steep mountainside and is great for working those leg muscles.

We’d been getting a little bored with our weekly after work pilgrimage up Kwaay Paay and decided to scout South Fortuna as a possible alternative. Since we’d be hiking in the evenings, we needed to start somewhere we could park outside of the park’s gates (which get locked in the evenings), so we began at the Tierrasanta Entrance at the end of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.20150425_DSC2931-EditSouthFortuna

We passed through the gate and across the parking lot to a large wooden bridge.20150425_DSC2932-EditSouthFortuna

Across the bridge was a wide, gravel road. We turned left, going uphill. A couple of hundred feet up the hill we turned right along a single track, following signs for the “S-curve trail.”20150425_DSC2935SouthFortuna

The trail meandered westward through tall brush. After dipping down briefly, we crossed a wooden footbridge spanning a dry wash, then climbed back up again. Here we encountered yet another gravel road.20150425_DSC2943SouthFortuna

We turned right again, and noticed some blooming bladderpod along the wooden fence lining the road. As I bent over to examine the plant and its bright yellow flowers, I noticed a bunch of small black and orange insects crawling along the fence and plant leaves. According to Google, they were Harlequin Bug Nymphs.20150425_DSC3095-EditSouthFortuna

After our brief entomology lab, we continued along the gravelly road and quickly came to yet another junction. We made a hard left towards the Visitor Center Loop Trail and began to descend.20150425DSC_9616SouthFortuna

Around .75 miles the trail leading down to the Jackson staging area and Visitor Center branched off to our right. We continued straight for a little ways longer until the S-Curve trail forked off on our right.20150425DSC_9625SouthFortuna

We turned down the narrow S-Curve trail and began to wind our way down the steep and rocky hill.20150425_DSC2960-EditSouthFortuna

Around 1.1 mile we reached the bottom curves and found another intersection. We turned right and continued down the hill.20150425_DSC2966SouthFortuna

We quickly reached another intersection. The Suycott Wash picnic area was just through the trees on our left. The loop portion of our route began here – the main trail bent to the left, and this was the way we’d be returning. For now, we took the single track to the right that led down into the wash.20150425_DSC2968SouthFortuna

As we made our way through the tall brush, I noticed a bit of movement in the bushes as a mourning dove landed on a log. He posed cooperatively for a minute before launching back into the air.20150425DSC_9638SouthFortuna

The trail wound through a number of oak trees and willows before crossing a small wooden bridge. After crossing, the trail bent west again and we came to a “T” junction. We turned right to begin the uphill climb that would take us to the South Fortuna stairs.20150425_DSC2978SouthFortuna

This section of trail was steep and somewhat eroded in sections. The buckwheat was just starting to bloom, its pinkish white tufts dotting the trailside.20150425_DSC2986-EditSouthFortuna

As we made our way along a ridgeline we had increasingly great views of the park. To our left was a wide open expanse of golden hillsides. To the right we could see Kwaay Paay Peak rising above the thin cement ribbon of the Father Junipero Serra trail. Stopping to look behind us, we could see the Mission Trails Visitor Center nestled in the green hills below.20150425_DSC3002-EditSouthFortuna

The trail leveled out a bit and we had an easy walk to the base of the South Fortuna Stairs. The stairs make a nearly straight ascent up the side of the small mountain. Some people refer to these stairs as “The Stairway to Heaven,” but I personally find the arduous climb evokes images of a different afterlife destination.20150425_DSC2997-EditSouthFortuna

Depending on your fitness level, they can be fun little challenge or a calf destroying, lung busting torture session. Whatever the effect, the best strategy is to just take your time and watch your step, as a slip in this area could be disastrous.20150425_DSC3005-EditSouthFortuna

We safely reached the top of the stairs with minimal tears, and, ignoring the trail which veered left, continued straight to a small overlook area. While this isn’t the actual summit, it is a very scenic spot from which to enjoy views of the San Diego River Gorge below, and catch your breath after conquering the stairs.20150425_DSC3028SouthFortuna

Despite the cloudy weather and impending rain, we had a surprisingly decent view of the downtown skyline and Point Loma.20150425DSC_9677SouthFortuna

After enjoying the views, we continued north on the trail. Another small incline and about .4 miles brought us to a small side trail that led a couple dozen feet to the actual summit. After the stairs, it was a bit anticlimactic, but we took a conquest photo anyway.20150425_DSC3037-EditSouthFortuna

To the north, the towering form of North Fortuna mountain could be seen.20150425_DSC3039-EditSouthFortuna

We headed down the steep, rocky trail towards the saddle. At just over 3 miles we passed beneath the power lines and crossed two dirt roads before reaching a Y junction. The right fork led up to North Fortuna summit, but since we were hoping to finish our outing before the rain began, we elected to turn left and start heading back towards the car.20150425_DSC3046SouthFortuna

From here, it was another relatively steep descent back down toward the valley floor.20150425_DSC3048-EditSouthFortuna

At 3.3 miles a single track branched off to the right. We turned left, continuing on the wide dirt road that once again split shortly ahead. Both of these paths end up in the same place, but we took the first right and followed the course of the power lines southwest.20150425_DSC3057-EditSouthFortuna

Another half mile brought us to a single track forking off the to left towards Suycott Wash. We took this trail, winding along the dry oak-lined creek.20150425_DSC3063SouthFortuna

Several small wooden footbridges spanned the wash.20150425_DSC3073-EditSouthFortuna

Around 4.25 miles, we reached Suycott Wash Picnic area, We followed the trail around the bend to where our loop had begun, and turned and headed up the hill to retrace our route back to our starting place.20150425_DSC3077-EditSouthFortuna

View the full photo gallery

From I-15, take the Clairemont Mesa Blvd exit. Head east on Clairemont Mesa Blvd for approximately 2.6 miles. The parking area and trailhead will be at the end of the road. Take note of the gate closure time, or park on the street. map

Total Distance: 5.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Total Ascent: 1296 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed on all trail segments
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
Mission Trails Regional Park
Interactive Trail Map

5 thoughts on “South Fortuna Mountain (Mission Trails Regional Park)

  1. Thank you for this. Easily the best trail guide I’ve seen, and I never would have otherwise figured out this alternate route that doesn’t involve crossing the San Diego river

  2. This was awesome! It made the hike soooo much smoother; we even helped out several other hikers en route to south fortuna peak who were looking a bit lost with their trail map by following your guide. Thanks so much for the detailed instructions and pics!

  3. Your detailed explanation of the hiking trail with pictures made this hike fun and easy to follow. Your every turn and attention to detail was extremely helpful. The trail maps are not very helpful to a first time hiker in this park. So appreciate your efforts and sharing. Had a wonderful hike and enjoyed the “Stairway to Heaven”