Mission Trails Regional Park is an amazing San Diego asset. It covers 7,220 acres and is located near Downtown and urban areas like North Park, Mission Valley, La Mesa, and others. There are a wide variety of activities available – running, rock climbing, bike riding, hiking, and more. To encourage more people to explore some of the less visited areas of the park the 5 Peak Challenge was officially launched on November 7, 2015 although it had been an unofficial challenge in the hiking community prior to that launch.
The 5 Peak Challenge offers visitors the opportunity to receive a certificate and logo pin if they summit the 5 major peaks in the park. They are (in order of decreasing height):
- Cowles Mountain (1592 feet)
- Pyles Peak (1379 feet)
- North Fortuna (1291 feet)
- Kwaay Paay (1194 feet)
- South Fortuna (1094 feet)
Cowles Mountain is the most popular hike in the park and has a constant flow of people. I had done Cowles a dozen or more times in the past 5 years and the Fortunas once or twice but had never been to Pyles or Kwaay Paay prior to attempting the 5 Peak Challenge. You don’t have to do all the peaks on one day and it’s probably not advised but a friend had told me about doing the challenge in under hours so I decided to make that my goal.
Using the park map (below, click for pdf copy) I decided the shortest total route from the Visitors Center would be: South Fortuna, North Fortuna, Kwaay Paay, Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak. I hopped on my bike in North Park and about 35 minutes later was at the Visitors Center and ready to go.
I used the Strava app to record the time, elevation gain, distance, and route for my 5 Peak Challenge. Including a few breaks for lunch and to register the kids for swimming lessons it took a total elapsed time of 4 hours and 57 minutes. I was scrambling up Pyles Peak to get under the 5 hour mark but managed to do it. I hiked at a moderate pace for the most part but did jog some of the descents and a bit of the Junipero Serra Trail that is a flat, paved road from the Old Dam to the Visitors Center. I also rode my bike from the Visitors Center to the Cowles Mountain base after the first 3 peaks.
I didn’t include any scenery shots on this post, other than the background on the selfies at bottom, which are required to officially complete the challenge and submit for a certificate. If you haven’t been, Missions Trails Regional Park is basically Southern California natural scrub habitat – some trees in the low lying areas but primarily short bushes and shrubs. The peaks provide wonderful views in every direction, from Mexico to the Pacific to inland mountains to the east. The day I hiked was overcast so the view distances were greatly reduced but I was grateful for the less intense sun and heat.
I’d highly recommend doing the 5 Peak Challenge or simply visiting the park to have a picnic or go for a casual hike up one of the peaks. It’s a great asset to the region and one well loved by many.