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.
Mission Trails Regional Park is an area that is rich in pre-European history from the Kumeyaay people, and an area that is rich in post-European history with the Old Mission Dam along with the remnants of Camp Eliott. Within the confines of its 7,220 acres are five mountains, which comprise a hiking challenge for adventurous locals and visitors alike. However, a little known historic fact is that the park actually has four - not five mountains. Earlier maps of the region called both South Fortuna Mountain and North Fortuna Mountain simply “Long Peak”. Even today, from a distance, the separate summits of South Fortuna (1,094 feet elevation) and North Fortuna (1,291 feet elevation) separated by the Fortuna saddle appear to be one mass with a number of humps. Despite visual appearances and former maps, even though South Fortuna is the smallest summit in the park, it can be a great strenuous day hike, as part of a larger trek, or as a stand-alone summit.
With miles of pristine beaches, rolling chaparral covered hills, and a constant semi-arid desert climate, San Diego will never be identified as one of the hot spots for waterfalls or hikes to waterfalls. However, unbeknownst to many people, from December through Memorial Day, San Diego does have a number of great seasonal waterfall hikes that highlight some of the best features of the county’s backcountry. As all of these waterfalls are seasonal, timing is everything, and also somewhat dependent on the weather pattern for the year. During wet winters and springs, these waterfalls will have high flows, and creek crossings; and during drought years, there may only be a trickle and dry stream beds. Similarly, with respect to timing, at the right times, these waterfalls can and will appear spectacular – but at the wrong times, may be a letdown after a hot, dusty trek. Keeping all that in mind, these hikes can also be great gateways to explore other regions of San Diego County, and again, at the right times, great spots to view spring wildflowers. I’ve listed the below hikes in order of difficulty, and let me know your thoughts about them, or any additions you have to the list below!
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.
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.
While San Diego is a young city in terms of history, it has a number of hidden historic gems. Many of these locations are clustered near the current city center (such as the Whaley House), but one of the spots, the Old Mission Dam, is located in the middle of San Diego's largest municipal park, Mission Trails. The Old Mission Dam is a historic structure for a number of reasons, but first and foremost, it is the oldest colonial engineering project on the Pacific Coast.
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.