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3 Hikes You Probably Didn’t Know About in Mission Trails

Whether you're an avid hiker or new to the scene, these trails may not be on your radar but should be
Climber's Loop, Mission Trails, San Diego
Courtesy of All Trails

My five-year-old son and I are avid hikers. And because of this, we’ve already explored many of the city’s best trails. But one of our favorite goals has been to hike every stretch of ground in Mission Trails. To do this, we printed out map from the Visitor’s Center and highlighted each trail as we hiked it. This led us to some treks I’m not keen to hike again (I’m looking at you, North Fortuna Perimeter Trail), but also was an excellent additional challenge for my hiking fiend son. 

It also gave me the chance to explore some parts of the park I’d never seen before. I thought most of the park would be the same—rocky trails, views of the peaks, grassy fields—but there were some genuine surprises.

So here I’ve collected three hikes we did during our challenge that I’d highly recommend. We will probably be repeating them regularly, too.

Cowles Mountain via Big Rock Trailhead

5 Miles

Cowles Mountain can feel like Disneyland. There’s a long line of people waiting to climb, with loud music and chatter all around you. But go just to the other side of the mountain and there’s a beautiful trail with far fewer people on it. The views of the back of the mountain are beautiful, and the trail is clear. It’s a longer distance—about five miles out and back—than climbing up the front of the mountain, and you do need to do a small stretch on the steep service road. But the relative serenity of the hike makes it worth it.

Climber’s Loop

2 Miles

This is a short but steep hike in the middle of Mission Trails, with views of the rest of the park and the rushing river that I haven’t seen anywhere else. You can start at the Mission Trails Visitor Center and walk on the paved path for the first half mile, then start your climb. It’s about two miles total and can be steep, but my son loves clamoring over the rocks, and I love the views as you feel like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. You can also check out the rock climbers who are ascending even higher. 

Corte Playa Catalina Trail

3-5 Miles

There are plenty of hikers to be found on the Grasslands Loop trails on the east side of the Fortuna Mountains, but far fewer explore the looping trails on the west side. For this reason, I love exploring the loops on the west side much better. The Corte Playa Catalina Trail winds through the fields with beautiful views of the Fortunas, and takes you past the Four Corners intersection with bike tools if you need a repair, plus a revegetation project. I like the three-mile loop along Corte Playa Catalina Trail, Suycott Valley and the Rim Trail, or Shepherd Pond Loop. There are a few steep hills, so be prepared.

By Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser has been writing for San Diego Magazine for 10 years. She also is a reporter at KPBS and writes for The New York Times, National Geographic, Marie Claire, Elle and Runner's World.

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