Awesome Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

Mike Peterson

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San Diego has plenty of mountains to climb with awesome views to see.Israel Palacio

When you think of mountains, images of remote, snow-capped peaks likely come to mind. San Diego doesn't have any of those, but we do have a variety of awesome mountain hikes with excellent views of our beautiful area.

There are small tall mountains in San Diego, and most of the county's peaks are easily hikeable within a few hours. Here are some top picks for San Diego County's best mountain hikes, based on ease of access and views.

11. Soledad Mountain Trail

Length: 0.8 miles

Type: Loop trail

Elevation gain: 377 feet

Soledad Mountain Trail in La Jolla is, truthfully, more of a hill than a mountain. However, the views from the top are still amazing and well worth the hike, which is less than a mile. Despite its short length, it features rocky and steep portions, so wear the appropriate footwear.

Directions here.

10. Mount Calavera

Length: 3.4 miles

Type: Loop trail

Elevation gain: 652 feet

Mount Calavera is a popular hiking trail in Carlsbad. Don't expect any heart-pumping incline here, this is a mellower hike that's family-friendly. However, do expect some wonderful views of the surrounding area. There's several hiking trails you can take, and a nearby lake to relax by.

Directions here.

9. Bernardo Mountain Trail

Length: 7.1 miles

Type: Out and back trail

Elevation gain: 872 feet

Bernardo Mountain is a fairly prominent peak that's easily accessible to residents of inland North County. It's a 7.2-mile hike with elevation gains of 1000 feet, and it offers commanding views of the local communities and nearby Lake Hodges.

Directions here.

8. Fortuna Mountain Trail

Length: 6.2 miles

Type: Loop trail

Elevation gain: 1,348 feet

Hiking the Fortuna Mountain Trail is certainly a workout. The specific route highlighted here combines both the North Fortuna and South Fortuna peaks, with their respective elevation gains and losses. The views here aren't the best, but the cardio you'll get makes up for it if you're looking for a workout.

Directions here.

7. Double Peak

Length: 3.9 miles

Type: Loop trail

Elevation gain: 1,026 feet

Double Peak is a tall mountain area in San Marcos that offers awesome views of the surrounding suburbs and the ocean. To make it a summit hike, take the trail from Discovery Lake. It's on the shorter side at 3.9 miles and well-maintained, but don't underestimate the elevation gain.

Directions here.

6. Iron Mountain

Length: 5.2 miles

Type: Out and back trail

Elevation gain: 1,102 feet

Like Mt. Woodson, Iron Mountain is a popular mountain hike in Poway. It leads to the second highest peak in the city and offers great views of San Diego County's northern areas. On a clear enough day, you can see far out into the sea. It's a moderate, 5.2-mile hike that's heavily trafficked, so do expect to see plenty of other day hikers on your way up.

Directions here.

5. Black Mountain

Length: 6.4 miles

Type: Loop trail

Elevation gain: 1,187 feet

Black Mountain is located in the Rancho Penasquitos area and features a 1,554-foot summit that provides wide views of the surrounding inland San Diego area. There are several hiking trails to get to the top, but most of them are on the shorter side and can easily be hiked within a few hours. Great for a weekend trek.

Directions here.

4. Cowles Mountain

Length: 3 miles

Type: Out and back trail

Elevation gain: 908 feet

One of the most popular hikes in San Diego, Cowles Mountain is the highest point within the city limits. It's a 1,593-foot summit that takes some steep switchbacks to achieve but is certainly doable for most hikers. Its location affords it excellent views of the city and surrounding area. However, it's very popular and can get a bit crowded.

Directions here.

3. Mt. Woodson

Length: 7.3 miles

Type: Out and back trail

Elevation gain: 2,119 feet

If you're a local, you already know about Potato Chip Rock -- the Instagram-worthy rock formation that looks like a potato chip hanging in the air. Don't let its popularity fool you, this is still a moderately challenging uphill hike with little shade. The views from the top are also worth the trek, in addition to the chip-shaped photo op.

Directions here.

2. Cuyamaca Peak

Length: 7.7 miles

Type: Loop trail

Elevation gain: 1,833 feet

Cuyamaca Peak is the second-highest in San Diego County, and offers unparalleled views of the surrounding area thanks to its central location. It is, unfortunately, entirety a pavement hike. However, you'll get a bird's-eye view of the surrounding Southern California mountains and San Diego's backcountry. It's well worth it.

Directions here.

1. El Cajon Mountain

Length: 11.3 miles

Type: Out and back trail

Elevation gain: 3,576 feet

Widely regarded as one of the most challenging hikes in San Diego County, El Cajon Mountain -- also known locally as "El Capitan -- is used by people to train for summitting much taller peaks. It's an 11.4-mile trek that features an excessive amount of incline (and decline). Bring way more water than you think you need, and don't hike it during the hotter parts of the year.

Directions here.

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Mike Peterson is a journalist, editor, and yoga teacher based in North San Diego County. He's a fan of indie bookstores, local craft beers, and excellent tacos.

San Diego, CA
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