Over the last thirty years as hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail-running, and other outdoor activities have become more and more popular, the number of races, challenges, and other activities that package elements from more than one trail have also increased. Some of these challenges have set days, like the Phoenix 7 Summit Challenge; and some of these challenges can last over the course of a year, like my friend Jeff Hester’s Six Pack of Peaks challenge. And, as of November 7, 2015, Mission Trails Regional Park inaugurated San Diego’s own trail challenge, the 5-Peak Challenge, which can be completed in a day, or over the course of a year.
Outside of the big three hikes in San Diego – “Potato Chip Rock”, Cowles Mountain, and Iron Mountain - the Cedar Creek Falls hike is one of the top five most popular hikes in the entirety of San Diego County. And, unlike many claims made about hiking in San Diego, this is not blogger hyperbole, this is a verified fact. The Forest Service website for the area even states that this trail is “...possibly the most traveled trail in the Palomar District”. As Cedar Creek Falls is so popular, no description of the hike would be complete without getting into why the trail and the waterfall is and has been so popular.
San Diego is a destination that is well-known for its fantastic weather, beautiful beaches, Comic-Con, and for being the home of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. In addition to all of these things, San Diego is America’s Finest City and is the host city of the 2016 Major League Baseball All Star game. While Petco Park, the Convention Center, and the Gaslamp District are great spots in the city core of San Diego, the city, and the county as a whole have innumerable spots for visitors who have the time to explore, or who want to get away from the downtown crowds. Whether you are a first time visitor to San Diego, or a long-time fan of the city, check out the below destinations this weekend that prove that the city’s nickname is more than hype.
Although Mission Trails Regional Park is home to the highest mountain in San Diego (Cowles Mountain), the most leg burning ascent in San Diego (Kway Paay Peak), the oldest European structure (Old Mission Dam), and some great climbing, it also has trails for all skill levels that provide much solitude amid the hustle and bustle of San Diego. A perfect example is the Oak Grove Loop Trail.
Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) is one of the best places to go hiking in the City of San Diego. Containing over 5,800 acres of open space, it is the largest city park in the State of California; and the seventh largest city park in the United States. Among many things, it contains the historic Old Mission Dam; beginner and intermediate rock climbing routes; and Cowles Mountain. Mission Trails, however, is more than just the Dam and Cowles Mountain - it is an area with over forty miles of hiking trails. While most of the park's visitors concentrate on the Eastern portions of the park - Cowles Mountain, the Old Mission Dam, the Grasslands Loop, and Kwaaypay Peak, there is also plenty of great hiking on the western side of the park without the crowds. A great intermediate hike is the Clairemont Mesa to Shepherd Pond route, which provides excellent views of the interior of the park, and slightly different terrain than a standard San Diego hike.
Mission Trails is a park that is known for one thing and one thing only: Cowles Mountain and that is a shame. It is a shame because, while Cowles Mountain is pretty, it is only a small portion of the 5,800 acres of open space, and it is tucked away in the Southern corner of the park. The remainder of the park is a great example of preserved open space; and a great spot to find solitude and serenity from the hustle and bustle of San Diego. Mission Trails is also a great spot to see how California used to look, as it is full of native California coastal vegetation that covers its hills and valleys; and it is a great spot to see how the seasons pass and have passed in the coastal desert plain for hundreds of years, with seasonal wildflowers and waterfalls in the winter and spring, and dry slickrock and whispering grasses in the summer and fall months. The best trail to hike in all of the park to experience everything I’ve listed above – solitude, serenity, and seasonal features is the Oak Canyon Trail; and the best time to experience it is from November to May.