Distance: 5.9 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1591' (Cowles), 1379' (Pyles)
Prominence: 991' (Cowles)
Elevation Gain: 1710'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.36
Round trip time: 2 hours
Recommended water: 56 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Golfcrest
Cowles Mountain is the highest point within the San Diego city limits and was one of 4 peaks on the agenda in Mission Trails Regional Park. All four are small peaks -- fast food peaks -- but all are on the San Diego 100 peaks list. I enjoy hiking for many reasons and sometimes can enjoy the cardio without an epic challenge. This would be a cardio focused day. I also wanted to hit these on a weekday since they are so close to urban San Diego and so easy that they get busy on weekends.
The small parking lot on Golfcrest was packed, and as I looked up the mountain, it was human ant hill. Coming on a Friday did not lessen the crowds. I had to park nearly half a mile down Golfcrest on the side of the road, which was lined with people hiking or taking their dogs up Cowles. This was the most crowded trail I've ever seen and I have no desire to return, at least by this route. I recommend using the trail from Mesa Road, or finding a way to do Pyles Peak first, then come up Cowles from there. I got to the top in 30 minutes, passing dozens of people, and dodging a platoon of marines jogging down. I took a few quick pictures and didn't bother looking for a register. Instead, I immediately set off for Pyles Peak on the other side of Cowles, and was pleased to see only three other hikers making their way down the trail. I quickly moved by them and for the next hour, the only sounds I heard were sonic booms from Navy jets. Pyles Peak is lower, but the views are essentially the same as from Cowles, but without the crowds. No register or benchmark to be found, I shed my base layer and headed back toward the human ant hill, then on to Kwaay Paay and Fortuna.