San Diego’s diverse terrain offers plenty of wonderful and challenging hiking trails. These trails listed below offer something event better, rewarding hikes with a view.
There is no place in the San Diego city limits with a better 360-degree view. Where else can you, on a clear, sunny day, see the Cuyamaca Mountains to the east, Tijuana to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, including the outline of San Clemente Island and Catalina Island? You feel like you can reach out and touch Downtown, Point Loma and the Coronado Islands. It’s that spectacular!
There are two ways to attack Cowles (pronounced like kohl’s) Mountain, and know this: at just over three miles roundtrip (1.5 uphill for a 950-foot elevation gain), it is a workout. The staging and parking area off Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive gets the most traffic and can be a parade of all sizes, shapes and forms on weekends. But the fire road off Cowles Mountain Boulevard and Boulder Lake is the best way to go if you want a more secluded hike. Rather than the sharp switchbacks on the south side (Golfcrest) the fire road offers a steady, winding climb to the top. At 1,593 feet, it’s the highest point in the city and the rising jewel of the Mission Trails Regional Park.
Warning: Always be aware that rattlers could be on the trail, especially the lesser-used fire road, at any point.
For more information on Cowles Mountain, check the Mission Trails Regional Park website, www.mtrp.org.
Shelter Island Shoreline Park
For a more relaxing hike that at times will flood the senses with Naval warships, sailboats, fishing boats and craft of every kind, try a walk along Shelter Island. The pier, launch ramp and promenade combine to create the mile-long Shelter Island Shoreline Park. It spans the length of the bay along Shelter Island and is a great place to relax, hike or even ride a bike.
Park near the Shelter Island Pier and start there with a walk out onto the pier. There’s good fishing there, too, if that’s a diversion you choose to do. From the pier, you can see the incredible San Diego skyline to the east. This walk is good any time of day or night. At Christmas time you can time it for the Parade of Lights, when the local sport fishing captains decorate their boats with holiday lights and sail along the Island.
As you walk east of the pier, stop along the launch ramp area to see boats of all sizes launching or coming back from fishing or boating trips. The Outboard Boating Club is there at the launch ramp. If someone is outside, ask them about that club’s storied history of power boating and commodores.
Los Peñasquitos Canyon
Head inland to hike one of the city’s more interesting and scenic canyons, the Los Peñasquitos Canyon hike. It’s about six miles roundtrip to the waterfall and is both family- and dog-friendly. This trail is frequented by mountain bikers, too, so beware of that. You have the option of staying on the main trail or taking a one-track side trail that eventually will hook up to the main trail. Los Peñasquitos Canyon is well worth the trip if you want to really get a look at an undeveloped canyon in the heart of the city.
Park at the junction of Mercy and Black Mountain Road, where parking is $3, or park in the back of Canyonside Community Park for free.
The Beach Trail at Torrey Pines State Park Reserve
The Beach Trail at Torrey Pines State Park Reserve is an incredible hike that starts in the parking lot of the Torrey Pines Golf Course and then weaves along the old highway (built-in 1910 and paved in 1915) that once connected San Diego to Los Angeles. You can also park in the reserve at the top for a fee, but the best way it to get a spot in the golf course parking lot and go north to the old road. You’ll see signs identifying all the trails. There are several options, but the Beach Trail will take you down to the water’s edge for some great beach hikes north (including the area’s nude beach, Black’s) and south. Along the way there are views from Red Butte, Razor Point and Yucca Point. Check them out and look out into the Pacific for breaching, spouting or porpoising whales or surfing dolphins.
Other Great San Diego Hikes with a View
Lake Miramar’s trail (really a perimeter road that is used by cars, bikes, rollerbladers and families with strollers, so beware) goes all the way around the lake, crossing the reservoir for a 5-mile hike. Miramar is in the Scripps Ranch area of the city. It’s off Scripps Ranch Drive (92131)
Lake Murray’s trail ends at the dam, so you have to double back for the 5-mile trek. Murray is at the base of Cowles Mountain in the La Mesa/San Carlos area. It can be accessed off Lake Murray Boulevard (5549 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa, CA, 91942).
There’s good parking at both lakes, especially during the week. On weekends, it’s pretty crowded, so get there early.