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blue Cowles Service Road

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1.4 mile 2.3 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 845' 258 m
Descent: -9' -3 m
High: 1,575' 480 m
Low: 738' 225 m


Avg Grade: 11% (6°)
Max Grade: 23% (13°)


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Trail shared by Phil Steffek

This wide service road will get you to the summit of Cowles Mountain with a fraction of the crowds.

Phil Steffek

Features Views · Wildflowers


Park on the street. The trailhead is the obvious service road, with a small kiosk. Head up the service road, and stay on the service road, bypassing the Barker Way Trail to your left (signed as Cowles Mountain Trail), approximately 1/8th of a mile in. The service road will veer right and now the fun begins!

The service road quickly climbs and views to the southeast quickly come into view. Do not fear if your quads and calves require a break. This is one of the steepest sections of the trail.

At approximately the 1/2 mile mark, the service road will veer sharply left and you'll be treated to views of Santee and the surrounding hills to the north. This is the so-called "Balcony". You'll find a small bench where you can enjoy the view and know that you've completed the most difficult section of the trail!

Continue on a rolling section of the service road for 1/2 a mile and mentally prepare for the push to the top.

Around the one mile mark, the service road will quickly begin to get steeper. Although not as steep as the first section of the hike, it's a close second. Stay on the service road until you are virtually at the summit. As the service road begins to crest you'll spot a few steps made from railroad ties on your right. Ascend the steps and you'll find yourself directly behind the Cowles Mountain summit marker (and reunited with the hordes of people who came up the Cowles Mountain Trail).

Make sure you touch the summit marker (it doesn't count if you don't touch it). Take in the views of the Pacific Ocean to the west, Tijuana, Mexico to the south and quite a few San Diego landmarks in between.

Turn around to descend the way you came or continue south and return via the second half of Cowles Mountain Backside Loop. Be careful! Footing can be slippery when descending the service road as the hard packed dirt is covered with pea-sized gravel in many sections creating a ball bearing like surface!


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Apr 8, 2019
Alli Estle
Mar 18, 2018
S Wright
Dec 23, 2017
Brian Larkin
Nov 3, 2017
Aaron D
Connected from Big Rock Trail 5mi
Jul 25, 2017
Brent Delhamer
2.8mi — 1h 15m
Nov 24, 2016
Lizzette Urquhart

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in California


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789 Since May 6, 2015
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