Decided to go for a post-Thanksgiving hike on Friday morning before heading back to the Pacific Beach Ale House for a few more pints by the beach. I knew that I would not be finding solitude, but I didn't want to drive far out of town and was looking for a little bit of cardio, so I went with what has to be the Phoenix equivalent of Camelback or Squaw Peak.
Cowles is the highest point in San Diego. It's a park and there are several trails, though the most popular is the "Cowles Mountain Trail" which leads to the summit. For a detailed map of the park and available trails, visit their website at http://www.mtrp.org
I chose to avoid the Cowles Mountain Trail, the likely crowded trailhead, and the hordes of people that I assumed would be out there on a holiday. I was very happy with my decision! I departed from the Barker Way trailhead, which is on the southeast part of the park, and about a mile drive from the main trailhead on Golfcrest Drive. It's basically just a normal neighborhood where you have to park on the street. I was pleasantly surpised at how few cars there were and how close I was able to park.
The hike from this side leaves you with two options ... the service road, or the Barker Way trail. I took the service road, which is what it sounds like. Not particularly exciting, but a steady climb that gets the blood flowing. I returned on the Barker Way trail, and in retrospect, I would rather have ascended on that single-track, switchback path rather than the old road.
Anyway, the road was not crowded, and I passed maybe 5 or 6 groups of people on the 1.6 miles to the top. Once there, I met most of San Diego, who had ascended the "front side" Cowles Mountain Trail from the Golfcrest Drive trailhead. I took a few pictures and began to descend that popular trail. Tons of people, endless switchbacks, overly "improved" with steps, fences, etc. for my taste.
About a half mile down, I left the crazy trail and headed back on the Barker Way trail to the trailhead I had started from. This was a much more pleasant single-track hike, without the crowds or nearly as much use. I got back to my truck in a little over an hour and a half, and headed for the Stone Brewery for a tasting
All-in-all, a decent hike. Worth doing once, or regularly if you are up for the convenience and location. It was a 65 degree sunny day so that pretty much couldn't be beat! I do recommend the Barker Way trail over the main trail if you prefer fewer people, and both end up at the same summit. The road down the back side isn't very interesting, but is fine if you like loops like I do. Next time I'll do it clockwise though!