Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park is 5800 acres in size and offers over 40 miles of trails. Only 8 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, this urban park is a quick getaway for those seeking rolling hills and lush valleys.
Establish in 1974, this huge area is dedicated to outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, biking, rock climbing, boating, camping, and horse back riding. Also noteworthy is the Visitor & Interpretive Center and the Old Missions Dam.
Family crosses a puddle in Mission Trails.
Steel bridge across San Diego River within Mission Trails Regional Park.
Although the park is open everyday of the year, the best time to go for a hike is in spring and early summer. During this time of the year, the grasslands are green & lush; the flowers are in bloom; and the creeks, streams and river are at their fullest. Not to mention, hiking in the spring will allow you to avoid the intense summer heat.
First things first: go to the Visitor's Center and get a trail map or see this online map. There are a variety of trails ranging from category 1 leisurely walks (some trails are wheelchair accessible) to category 5 challenging hikes with substantial inclines. Pick a trail suited for your level, bring lots of water, wear sunscreen and protective clothing, and always hike with a friend.
By far, the most popular trail is the Cowles Mountain Trail: it is a challenging category 5 hike with an ascent of 933 feet. Cowles Peak is at 1,592 feet (485 m) and it is the highest point in the park. Indeed, it is the highest point of the entire city of San Diego. The trails is 1.5 miles one way but it is a steady climb. At the top you will be rewarded with a 360 panoramic view of the surrounding area. Despite the significant ascent, this trail is busy with hikers: there are at least 100 hikers per day on this trail and on a weekend in the summer, there are even more hikers!
Summit of Cowles Mountain in Mission Trails Regional Park.
If you don't want to fight the crowds, take a look at these other hiking/walking trails in Mission Trails Regional Park:
1 = Easy, mostly level or gradual inclines
2 = Okay for beginners in good physical condition.
3 = Moderate, may require climbing over rocks and/or fairly steep inclines.
4 = Difficult, for hikers with good stamina, involves extetnded climbs.
5 = Very challenging, for experienced hikers in excellent physical condition.
Trailheads are well marked. Benches are available at strategic locations. Informative plaques provide details about history, fauna, and flora.
Old Mission Dam
Another popular destination is the Old Mission Dam which was built in the early 1800's by Kumeyaay Indians, soldiers and Spanish missionaries. The dam serve as a water reservoir and supplied irrigation water to the first Mission established in California: the San Diego de Alacala.
The dam was constructed using ropes, pullies, and hand labor to move boulders and cement (clay) found on site. It probably took anywhere from 5 to 15 years to complete; documentation indicates that it was a functional dam by 1813. It is approximately 250 ft long, 10 ft wide, and 12 ft high (67m x 4 m x 3.7m). It is now a National Historic Landmark.
The Old Mission Dam in Mission Trails Regional Park.
Camping at Kumeyaay Lake
Kumeyaay Lake is a reservoir supplying water to the nearby communities. The Kumeyaay Campground is located along this lake. There are 46 rustic campsites suitable for tent and RV camping. The campsites have no water, no electricity, and there is no hook-up. Two service buildings provide water, sinks, restrooms, and hot showers.
Cost is $20 per site per night for one vehicle; $4 for one additional vehicle. One camping unit per site. Pets $3 each per night. First come first serve sites available but reservations are recommended. Click here for online reservations or call 619-668-2748 for more information.
The Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor & Interpretive Center is a modern structure 14,000 sq ft (1,300 m2) in size. Here you will find a library, a 93-seat theater with a Blu-ray projection system, an art gallery, exhibits, and a gift shop. Activities, events, slide shows, videos, and presentations are ongoing throughout the year (see here. You should definitely stop by and take a look, it's worth the trip.
Hours of Operation
Open: Sunday - Saturday 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Closed: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day
Park gates open at 8 am
Parking lots close at 5 pm daily
Old Mission Dam closes at 5 pm (Nov - March) 7 pm (April - Oct)
Mission Trails Regional Park
One Father Junipero Serra Trail
San Diego, CA 92119-1008
Restrooms are available near the Old Mission Dam, near the Climbers Loop trail, and in the Visitors Center.
Mission Trails map