Cowles Mountain is the largest natural feature in San Diego other than the beaches. At 1,591 feet Cowles Mountain is the highest point within San Diego city limits. On a clear day looking eastward from the beaches, Cowles Mountain is one of the prominent features on the horizon. We are lucky to live at the mountain base within walking distance to the main trail head. On a clear day from the summit you can see the Pacific ocean. You also can see into Mexico and the rest of San Diego County, both of which have peaks that dwarf Cowles Mountain. But for a city peak, Cowles Mountain stands alone in it scenic beauty and grace; providing miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails for the city dwellers to enjoy.
The name is pronounced it Coals but many of the local residents mispronounce it Cowls. It’s a pity for George Cowles, a great San Diego pioneer and man of vision, industry, wealth and success; a mover and shaker in everything from farming and ranching to banking and railroads. When he died childless his widow married Milton Santee. Old Milton systematically renamed much of Cowles’ holdings after himself. Cowles Mountain is about the only namesake that remains of poor old George.
Cowles Mountain is home to rattlesnakes, coyotes, skunks, opossums, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, rats and mice, California quail, scrub jays, hawks, and the endangered California Gnatcatcher. The area is also actively hunted by Great Horned Owls and Barn Owls. Most of the domestic cats that disappear are thought to have been taken by coyotes are in fact taken by owls. The local Great Horned Owls can have a four-foot wingspan, and will eagerly take out cats and even dogs up to 20 pounds. We have spotted rabbits in our neighborhood, seen coyotes cruising down the street, had a hawk swoop through our yard and sit on our backyard fence. There’s even a mating pair of California Condors down the street at Lake Murray.
Cowles Mountain anchors one corner of the Mission Trails Regional Park, which includes the Old Mission Dam and Lake Murray. Mission Trails Regional Park is the largest urban park in the U.S., encompassing some 6,000 acres. It is seven times larger than Central Park in New York City. Recently, the bobcat population has started a tentative rebound, and even a mountain lion has been spotted.
The main trail head at Navajo Blvd and Golfcrest Drive is a three quarters of a mile from our home has a parking lot and restrooms. The trail goes up the western slope of Cowles Mountain. It’s a three-mile round trip to the summit and back, with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. The trails cut through brushy, rocky chaparral; on a clear day you can expect no shade but exceptional vistas. Take lots of water and sunscreen.
The Fires: We had some excitement in late 2003, when the San Diego fires caused our neighborhood to be evacuated for the second time in its history. At the time, it was thought that the fire might cross Mission Gorge Road and blast over Cowles Mountain, where there was lots of brush and no significant firebreaks. We were lucky; the Cedar Fire never got closer than a couple miles from our home. A brush fire broke out in early 2006, again thankfully on the other side of the mountain from us. And, in 2007, fires again raged throughout the county, but didn’t come anywhere near us so we weren’t evacuated.
It’s a quiet neighborhood with mostly local traffic. It’s a stable neighborhood where about half our neighbors are original owners living in these houses since they were built in 1972. We like it a lot here and according to Momma Bear it will be quite a while before she would consider moving.
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