A Visitor’s Guide to Mission Trails Regional Park (2024)

Enjoy the Trails

Mission Trails consists of five sections: West Fortuna, East Fortuna, Mission Gorge, Cowles Mountain, and Lake Murray. Each area is unique, and offers visitors the opportunity to experience various terrains and wildlife.

Hikers, equestrians, runners and mountain bikers alike love the variety of trails at Mission Trails. There are over 60 miles of trails for all ages and fitness levels. Depending on which trail you choose, expect to see SoCal nature at it's finest, from colorful wildflowers to incredible mountain top views.

Top Trails

The Visitor's Center Loop is a great choice for families or novice hikers. It is a 1.5 mile loop with a slight elevation that runs along the San Diego River. There are multiple places to stop for shade, and you can expect to see beautiful wildflowers throughout.

Helping the Park

Choose from a range of MTRP branded products (three t-shirt styles, hats, etc.), toys, books for adults and children, botanical soaps, notecards, and more. All proceeds support the park through the MTRP Foundation.

The Cowles Mountain Trail is one of the most popular trails at the park, and is rated as moderate. It is a 3 mile out-and-back trail with the trailhead starting in the San Carlos neighborhood. The summit of this trail is a real reward- 360 views of San Diego, Mexico, North County and Orange Country from the top of Cowles Mountain.

Another well-traveled trail is the Father Junipero Serra Trail, which is a 4.5 mile out-and-back trail that follows the canyon that splits Kwaay Paay and South Fortuna. It is fully paved, which makes it a popular choice among those with baby strollers or wheelchairs.

The Oak Canyon Trail to South Fortuna Trail is considered one of the most difficult hikes in the park. It is a 10.3 mile out-and-back trail, gaining over 2,300 feet in elevation. This trail can be used to access both North and South Fortuna summits, with truly incredible views!

Dog are welcome on all the trails at Mission Trails Regional Park. We have even featured Mission Trails as a great dog friendly hiking spot as seen in our Best Things to do in San Diego article.

Tackle the 5-Peak Challenge!

The 5 Peak Challenge was created in 2015 to bring awareness to the less-traveled parts of Mission Trails, and to redistribute trail traffic. The challenge is to hike the 5 main peaks in the park, and take a selfie next to the sign at each summit. The five main peaks are Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay Peak, South Fortuna, and North Fortuna.

This does not have to be completed in one day, and only approximately 5% of hikers complete it in one day. In total, the challenge covers approximately 12 miles, and hikers gain a maximum elevation of 1,592 feet at Cowles Mountain, which is the highest peak in the city of San Diego. Those highly trained athletes who do complete it in one day typically take about 6 hours.

Successful finishers are able to claim a logo pin and certification of completion from the Visitor Center. Dogs are welcome to join the challenge, and can even earn their own certificate, but unfortunately canine hikers are not awarded logo pins.

Check out the Visitor and Interpretive Center

The 14,500 square foot Visitor and Interpretive Center is impressive in both size and offerings. Many visitors come to the center for the thrilling view of Mission Gorge! Head out to the terrace and prepare to be wowed.

At the Visitor Center, there is information on the various trails, camping, boating and guided hikes and registration for programs. Visitors can also use the gleaming restrooms, or fill up their water bottles at the water station before setting off on the trails. The center is open daily from 9am-5pm, and is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day.

The center offers many educational programs and exhibits for visitors to learn about the history and wildlife at Mission Trails. There is a 94 seat theater, with a rotating schedule of shows focusing on the people and nature of the area. There is also a library, art gallery and gift shop offering authentic treasures unique to Mission Trails.

Also Camping, Boating and Fishing!

In April 2000, the park opened 46 campsites at Kumeyaay Lake Campground, as an addition to the San Diego Camping scene. Reservations are required, and all fees must be paid online in advance. The campground offers picnic tables, BBQ grills and fire rings.

Boating and fishing are very popular in the Lake Murray area. The season runs from November-Labor Day, and during that time the lake is brimming with trout, catfish, and largemouth bass, among others. There is a concessionaire which offers bait and tackle, fishing permits, boat and canoe rentals.

A Visitor’s Guide to Mission Trails Regional Park (2024)


What is the 5 Peak Challenge Mission trails? ›

The official objective is to summit the five peaks: Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay, South Fortuna, and North Fortuna.

How long is Mission Trails Regional Park? ›

With about 60 miles of trails, boating on Lake Murray, camping at Kumeyaay Lake, numerous informative hikes, and a state-of-the-art Visitor and Interpretive Center, Mission Trails Regional Park has something to offer everyone.

How much does it cost to go to Mission Trails Regional Park? ›

Everything at Mission Trails Regional Park is free and it is just 12 miles from downtown San Diego.

How many trails does Mission trails have? ›

Best Trails in Mission Trails Regional Park. Want to find the best trails in Mission Trails Regional Park for an adventurous hike or a family trip? AllTrails has 66 great trails for hiking, birding, and walking and more.

How hard is Mission Peak Trail? ›

On a clear day hikers can see the skylines of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. This is a moderate to strenuous trail with a constant uphill climb until you reach the summit. The trail is a well-maintained gravel base until the last half mile.

How long is the 3 peak Challenge in miles? ›

The National Three Peaks Challenge involves climbing the three highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales, often within 24 hours. The total walking distance is 23 miles (37km) and the total ascent is 3064 metres (10,052ft) - twice the ascent of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, over a similar total walking distance.

How hard are mission trails? ›

Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 40 min to complete. This is a popular trail for birding, hiking, and running, but you can still enjoy some solitude during quieter times of day. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.

What animals are in mission trails? ›

Just added!
  • Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas) ...
  • California Tree Frog (Pseudacris cadaverina) ...
  • Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla) ...
  • African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis) ...
  • American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) ...
  • Southern California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps major) ...
  • San Diegan Legless Lizard (Anniella stebbinsi)

Can you fish at Mission trails? ›

The lake is open for shore fishing and private boats (when water level allows) sunrise to sunset, seven days a week with the following exceptions - the second Tuesday of each month and Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Small boat and kayak rentals are available.

Can you mountain bike in Mission Trails Regional Park? ›

According to users from AllTrails.com, the best trail for mountain biking in Mission Trails Regional Park is Cowles Mountain Trail, which has a 4.6 star rating from 12,164 reviews.

How difficult is Cowles Mountain? ›

Check out this 3.0-mile out-and-back trail near La Mesa, California. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 1 h 49 min to complete. This is a very popular area for hiking, mountain biking, and running, so you'll likely encounter other people while exploring.

Where do I start the mission trail in San Antonio? ›

A pedestrian route that starts at the Alamo and winds nine miles along the San Antonio River passing four other historical missions. Suggest edits to improve what we show.

What are the big three trails? ›

The Triple Crown consists of the Big Three National Scenic Trails: The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

Is Mission trail dog friendly? ›

With over 65 miles of trails, boating on Lake Murray, camping at Kumeyaay Lake, numerous informative hikes, and a stunning Visitor and Interpretive Center, Mission Trails Regional Park offers something for everyone. Dogs must be kept on leash.

How long is the mission trail hike? ›

Mission Trails Regional Park is a 2.7 mile (6,000-step) route located near Santee, California, USA. This route has an elevation gain of about 583.8 ft and is rated as medium.

How many miles is the 5 peak Challenge? ›

The route here, as described in the book “Afoot & Afield - San Diego County,” strings all five peaks together. It starts at the Colina Dorada trailhead and works East, ending at the Cowles Mountain Trailhead. In total, it gains 4,416 feet of elevation of 16.38 miles.

What is the route for the peak Challenge? ›

National Three Peaks Maps

The National Three Peaks Challenge driving route is 462 miles long, and takes around ten hours in total, in good traffic - the first section from Fort William to Wasdale Head is five-and-a-half hours, and the second section from Wasdale Head to Llanberis takes around four-and-a-half hours.

Where are the 5 peaks? ›

The 5 Peaks Challenge is a hill climbing challenge the aim of which is to ascend and descend the highest peak in each of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (of the United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland within 48 hours, including all travelling, and without breaking national speed limits or recommended ...

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