The Mission Trails 5 Peak Challenge is a popular hiking challenge in the San Diego, California area. It consists of the 5 most popular peaks to hike at Mission Trails Regional Park.
How the Challenge Works
The challenge consist of hiking the 5 most popular peaks at Mission Trails Regional Park. This is a fun way to explore the park and give yourself a great hiking challenge.
The peaks you will be visiting are the following:
- Cowles Mountain
- Pyles Peak
- Kwaay Paay Peak
- North Fortuna Mountain
- South Fortuna Mountain
In total, the hiking challenge will encompass 15.3 miles and 4,118 feet of elevation gain. Keep in mind that there are many different trail combinations you can take to reach each of these peaks, so your mileage and elevation gain may vary. Below is the most straightforward approach to completing the challenge.
While Mission Trails Regional Park no longer offers rewards for the challenge, you can look at their official challenge information on their website. Essentially as you complete each of the peaks you will want to take a picture with the peaks official plaque. Once you have collected a picture with each of them, you would send them into the parks information center and they would validate your accomplishment. Again, since this is no longer something they do, no selfies are required, unless you wants to keep it for nostalgic purposes.
Mission Trails has their official 5 Peak Challenge Map. You will see that they break the recommended trails into 5 seperate hikes. Again, this will be up to you and how you want to approach the challenge.
Cowles Mountain & Pyles Peak
6.14 miles | 1,831 feet elevation | 2 hr 40 min moving time
These two peaks need to be hiked together. In order to get to Pyles Peak you will need to start from the top of Cowles Mountain. So naturally it makes sense to do these peaks together. You can choose if you want to make one or two hikes out of this.
Cowles Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in San Diego. You can expect on a nice day, especially the weekends that the trail will be very crowded. Keep in mind, that even though the trail is clear cut on this one, there are MANY rescues every year. This is due to the open exposure to the sun. Make sure to bring plenty of water and when in doubt, turn around if things aren’t going well.
Once you have made it to the top of Cowles Mountain you should enjoy the views from the top before making your way to the next one. When you are facing the peak monument, look to your left and you will find a staircase that goes down to the fire road. Head down the fire road for about 50 feet until you see the Pyles Peak trail signage. You will take this path all the way to Pyles Peak.
The trail itself is pretty straight forward but keep in mind that this has a U shape for the elevation gain. You start by going down in elevation, then work your way back up to the peak. There is a viewpoint along the way, but honestly, both of the peaks offer better views. Once you have made it to the top, take a quick break, have a snack, and get ready to head all the way back from the direction you already came from.
Kwaay Paay Peak
2.46 miles | 883 feet elevation | 1 hr 5 min moving time
This hike is short and sweet. It packs a punch and rewards you with great views at the top on a nice and clear day. My favorite part about this hike is the way down. The reason for this because on the way up you are staring at the steep trail and are focused on getting to the top. You usually don’t realize how awesome the views are behind you!
North and South Fortuna
6.72 miles | 1,404 feet elevation | 2 hr 42 min moving time
These peaks offer a great challenge. As you make your way up the stairs toward South Fortuna, get ready for a challenging but enjoyable climb that will definitely get your heart pumping. Many people have to take several breaks in this section to catch their breath. In the loop above I like to go counterclockwise, this results in you heading up the stairs to South Fortuna Mountain.
Once you make it to the top of South Fortuna you keep going and will end up at North Fortuna with just a little bit more effort. From this point, most of the hike left over will be heading back down the mountain. Coming down this way will be much easier on the knees in my opinion as opposed to going down the steep stair section discussed earlier.
Keep in mind, this version of the hike knocks out two peaks in one hike. If you want to add some extra effort to the challenge you can separate this one into two separate hike as seen in the official hiking challenge trail map.
Mission Trails 5 Peak Challenge in One Day
Many people ask if it is possible to do the challenge in one day. The answer is YES! But now the real question is, how would I approach it? What is the best route to take in order to hit all of the peaks?
I have not done this in a day, but I would like to plan a route so I can share this with everyone in an easy-to-follow GPX file. Let me know if this is something you would be interested in the comments down below. Or if you have a suggested route for this.
Is there a specific hike or topic that you would like to see next? Leave a comment down below or reach out via the Contact Form and hopefully, I will be able to get a recap and virtual hike posted soon! Thanks for stopping by, enjoy your adventure.
If you would like to learn more about some of the apps we use during the adventures, please let me know that as well!