North Fortuna Mountain

At 1,291 feet high, North Fortuna Mountain is the third highest mountain in the confines of Mission Trail Regional Park and is 197 feet higher than its neighbor, South Fortuna Mountain. In my mind, however, out of all of the five mountains in the park, North Fortuna Mountain features the toughest leg burning ascent. Like many things, this is something that is open to debate. While both Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak for the most part do not feature tough straight uphill sections, both South Fortuna and Kwaay Paay Peak have solid claims to the toughest leg burning ascents as well. Even with the toughest - or near toughest leg burning ascent, North Fortuna Mountain is a great hike as it provides great views, and is part of the Five Peak Challenge within Mission Trails.

The first portion of the hike up to North Fortuna passes through some shady, riparian terrain.

Directions: Like all of the mountains in the park, there are numerous ways to summit North Fortuna Fas many of the park’s trails intersect. The route I am about to describe leaves from the Old Mission Dam in the center of the park. For the first portion of the route, the trail passes over the San Diego River, and into Oak Canyon, which, depending on the time of year, may have seasonal water flows (and waterfalls further up the canyon). At the junction of the split toward waterfalls, there is also a bend that is well signed up to the Fortuna Saddle. To reach the Fortuna Saddle from this point - and ultimately the summit, hikers must follow a well-defined and maintained fire access road.

From Oak Canyon, the trail ascends up a steep fire access road toward the Fortuna Saddle.

While this may sound simple, as the route at this point has no switchbacks, and is less a trail than a road, the road provides its own challenges. First, as the road does not deviate from its upward course, there is little to no respite for one’s legs as it gains elevation steadily - and steeply - from Oak Canyon to the saddle. Second, while the road is well-maintained, because of its slope, it is slippery and treacherous man-made terrain. On innumerable occasions, I have witnessed hikers and runners fall both ascending and descending the road to the Fortuna Saddle; and the grade does challenge the tread on one’s footwear. Keeping this in mind, it is not something that requires scrambling, is not technical, and is merely something that is steep, but passable to hundreds of hikers and runners daily. Once at the saddle, hikers will likely want to rest their legs for a minute, as they will have gained 500 feet in about a half mile. (For purposes of comparison, one of the challenging other routes in the park is on South Fortuna, which also has 560 feet of elevation gain in about a half mile). 

The ridgeline near the summit of North Fortuna is a great place to watch the sunrise, and has great views of the eastern half of San Diego County.

From the Fortuna Saddle, which sits at 910 feet, hikers will want to ascend to the North the remainder of the elevation to the peak over the course of some switchbacks, and mostly flat sections. Like many mountains, North Fortuna Peak has a false summit slightly before the actual summit. Hikers will know the actual summit by two ways; that it is the highest point in the immediate area with great three hundred and sixty degree views of the area; and that it has a summit log in an ammunition container. From the summit, hikers can either return back down the leg burning fire road for a total roundtrip hike of 4.8 miles; or can continue further north along the trail to descend along Highway 52, or can head west through Suycott Valley. Alternatively, hikers can descend back down to the saddle and then climb South Fortuna Mountain for a two-summit day before heading back to their car.

North Fortuna Summit Trail, Mission Trails Regional Park

Tips: Once out of Oak Canyon, the majority of the route is exposed, so hikers should plan accordingly during the summer months in terms of sun exposure and temperature.