Pyles Peak from Barker Way (Mission Trails Regional Park)

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  • Location: Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego. From the 125 Freeway, take the Navajo Rd. exit (20A) and head west (turn left if you are coming from the south; right if from the north) for 0.8 mile. Turn right onto Boulder Lake Ave., go 0.5 mile and turn right on Barker Way. The trail head will be almost immediately on the left. Alternately from Interstate 8, take the College Ave. exit (10) and head north (turn left if you are coming from the west; right if from the east). In 1.3 miles, turn right onto Navajo Rd. Go 2.7 miles to Cowles Mountain Blvd. Turn left and go 0.5 mile to Boulder Lake Ave. Turn left and make an immediate right onto Barker Way. The trail head will be on the left.
  • Agency: Mission Trails Regional Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,650 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Recommended gear: sun screen sun hat
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution during warm months)
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: Chemical toilet at trail head
  • Camping/backpacking: The nearest campground is on the other side of Mission Trails Regional Park at the Kumeyaay Campground
  • More information: Trip description here ; Yelp page for Pyles Peak here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 7

Pyles Peak is the second tallest summit in Mission Trails Regional Park at 1,379 feet. While the Fortunas and the taller Cowles Mountain may appear more imposing, Pyles is the park’s most demanding summit because it requires you to first climb Cowles, the highest point in the city limits of San Diego at 1,591 feet. The hike to Pyles Peak has 500 feet of elevation gain on the return, so even if you start early, you may be climbing back up to Cowles in mid-day heat on a trail with no shade. While Cowles is one of San Diego County’s most popular hiking destinations, relatively few people continue to Pyles. Many of those who do are participating in Mission Trails Regional Park’s Five Peak Challenge (Pyles, Cowles, Kwaay-Paay, North and South Fortuna).

The route to Pyles Peak described below starts from Barker Way, a slightly less crowded alternative to the very pouplar south approach to Cowles Mountain. Start by heading north on a wide dirt road to the Barker Way Trail on the left. The single-track makes its way efficiently up the southeast slope of Cowles, offering panoramic views of the nearby residential neighborhoods and farther east and south to San Miguel Mountain, El Capitan, Viejas Mountain and other peaks. Stay left at the next two junctions before meeting the Cowles Mountain Trail, 1.1 miles from the start.

Turn right and head uphill, making more switchbacks for the next 0.6 mile to reach the Cowles summit. Here you can take a break and enjoy a 360-degree view before continuing onto Pyles Peak. Follow the service road north, heading briefly downhill to the signed Pyles Peak trailhead. The trail drops along the northwest slope of Cowles Mountain, providing views of Pyles Peak, North Fortuna and Mission Gorge. If visibility is good, you will also see downtown San Diego and possibly as far north as the Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County.

After reaching a saddle (1,230 feet) the trail climbs to a bump where a short spur leads to a vista point. You then drop to another saddle before making a sharp right turn and heading north, engaging in a final steep push to the summit (over 200 feet in a quarter mile.)

The views aren’t as dramatic as on Cowles or the Fortuna peaks, but while you may have some company, it will likely be far less crowded on this summit. After recharging your batteries for the long return, retrace your steps back to Cowles Mountain and then Barker Way.

Cowles Peak, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego
Cowles Peak as seen from the Barker Way trailhead
Pyles Peak Trail, Mission Trails Regional Park
Start of the Pyles Peak trail just below Cowles Mountain
Pyles Peak, San Diego, CA
Looking east from Pyles Peak
Pyles Peak, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego, CA
Looking southwest from Pyles Peak

Text and photography copyright 2017 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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