San Diego's Top 5 Mountains

One of the great views awaiting people from San Diego's mountains!

Irrespective of whether you’re a native Californian whose recently become interested in the outdoors, or a recent transplant that’s been hiking for years, you’ll find that San Diego has a number of fantastic trails and hiking opportunities. And, once you’ve cut your teeth on a few of these trails, chances are that you’re going to want a challenge – or to see what the rest of the outdoor community is talking about in the back – and front country of San Diego. So, whether you’re looking for a scenic ocean view, a quiet backcountry stroll, or a place to take the next viral social media photo, or something else entirely, these five mountains have it all, from the trailhead to the summit.

Foggy Morning on Cowles Mountain

1) Cowles Mountain. Located in Mission Trails Regional Park, Cowles Mountain is the highest point in the City of San Diego. Cowles is also the undisputed people’s champion of all of the peaks in the county: everyone has heard of it; everyone has climbed it. Some may find this popularity off-putting, but the phrase, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” springs to mind. While you’ll never find solitude on this trail, what you will find is an addicting 1.5 mile uphill ascent, and a great 360 degree view of the Pacific and the County. If the hike isn’t a challenge, try running it like many other people do, or try the longer ascent via the Big Rock Trail.

Potato Chip Rock, Mt. Woodson

2) Woodson Mountain (Mt. Woodson). I say pot-ato, you say potat-o. Either way, everyone can agree that potato chips are delicious – except when they’re made from rock. Yes, Woodsen Mountain is the home of the infamous potato chip rock. This rock has single-handedly moved Woodsen up to number two on this list. The potato chip rock is one of many boulders that dot the mountain’s slopes. But it is the only rock that lets you look like you’re hanging in mid-air, with nothing else but certain death beneath you. So, grab your hikers, and head up the mountain to get your infamous selfie – because everyone else in the County has one – and don’t forget your props and imagination of what pose you’re going to strike – because everyone else in line will already be prepared. Worried about the distance? Take the route from the Eastern side, where you can watch people bouldering as you hike!

Iron Mountain Trailhead

3) Iron Mountain. Finally, a mountain that looks like a mountain should, with less people, and that great triangular peak. Iron Mountain is also a challenge at 5.6 miles roundtrip distance; and is a great place to view the sunset on a clear day; astral phenomena when they appear, or just a great spot to kick back atop after the hike up. If you’re up for a challenge, you can hike Iron Mountain and Woodsen in the same day, as they’re neighbors along the CA-67.

A short video of the hike up Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho SP, as well as a variation up the peak via the Cold Spring Trail.

4) Stonewall Peak. Let’s say you want to get away from it all, but don’t want to leave the confines of San Diego? No problem! There’s a hike waiting for you in the near backcountry, and that hike is Stonewall Peak. Located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Stonewall Peak is a great spot to see some of the old and new growth of the County. It’s also a great spot for spring wildflowers, and the summit is an amazing spot to stargaze from, or practice scrambling on while ravens and raptors ride the thermals that surround the mountain. The only thing better than this hike is finishing your day with some fresh post-hike apple pie in nearby Julian.

Summit Blocks, Corte Madera

5) Corte Madera Mountain. Out of all the peaks here, this peak is the backcountry purist’s hike. Corte Madera sits out on the Eastern border of San Diego County, and is almost one hour away from the downtown. This hike features few people; and a great trek to the granite slabs of the summit that are known as the Half Dome of San Diego.

Honorable Mention – Volcan Mountain. So – what are you waiting for? Get out there, and explore these peaks! See you on the trail!

Entrance Gate, Volcan Mountain