Top Ten Hikes In San Diego

Whether you’re looking for a challenging workout up a steep trail or a leisurely hike with great views, San Diego has a lot to offer. Here are ten of our favorite hiking trails in San Diego county.

Cowles Mountain
City: San Diego
Distance: 3 miles (round trip)
Location: Golfcrest Dr and Navajo Rd, San Diego, CA 92119 There’s a small parking lot at the trail head but it’s usually full so most would have to park on the street.

cowles(source: Kevin O’Connor/flickr)

This a very popular trail that can get crowded at times, but it’s an easy hike with a well-maintained trail that has a lot of switchbacks. When you get to the summit–which is the highest point in the city of San Diego–you’ll get a gorgeous panoramic view of San Diego that includes Downtown and Mexico on a clear day.

Torrey Pines State Park
City: San Diego
Distance: 5.6 miles
Location: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037 Paid parking in a lower and upper parking lot on Torrey Pines Park Road or free parking along the beach.


This is a hike with beautiful ocean views. Once you find parking along the beach or pay 10$ to park in the parking lot, you walk up Torrey Pines Road and from there you have multiple trails to choose from, like the Guy Fleming Trail or The Razor Point trail. You can expect an easy to moderate hike with amazing views as all the trails come to edges of cliffs overlooking the crashing waves of the ocean below.

El Cajon Mountain Trail
City: Lakeside
Distance: 12 miles (round trip)
Location: The parking lot doesn’t open until 7 am, so park on the road if you’re going to start the hike earlier. To get to the trail head, walk east on Shenma Road. Go straight, past the Blue Sky Ranch, until you round a bend and see the bathrooms at the start of the hike.


Also known locally as “El Capitan”, El Cajon Mountain Trail is a very challenging hike in East County–sometimes considered the most difficult hike in San Diego county because of its sudden elevation gains/losses in the 6 mile trail that will have you climbing uphill both ways. You’ll get views of Eagle Peak, Cuyamaca Peak, and the San Diego River Valley. Bring at least 4 liters of water per person and start early in the morning as it can get really hot out there. If you’re a beginner, this trail is not recommended.

Iron Mountain
City: Poway
Distance: 5.8 miles
Location: Intersection of Hwy 67 & Poway Rd Poway, CA 92074 The parking lot is at the end of Poway Road, just across Hwy 67.

iron mountain

A good solid hike,  the Iron Mountain trail isn’t too steep or difficult but it has great scenery with well-maintained trails. This moderately challenging hike is good for all skill levels. It could get crowded during the weekends, but there are many side trails you can take and you get beautiful views of the coast at the top.

Mount Woodson
City: Poway
Distance: 6.4 miles
Location: 14644 Lake Poway Rd, Poway, CA 92064 The parking lot at the trail head has a parking fee on the weekends for non-Poway residents.

9huiljThe trail at Mt. Woodson is long and has sections that are steep, so be prepared for a moderate to strenuous hike. At the peak, you’ll get views of the ocean and Palomar to the east. One of the unique landmarks on this trail is the famous Potato Chip Rock–the long,thin slice of rock that has become a popular photo-op for hikers.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
City: San Diego
Distance: 4.7 miles
Location: Mercy Road & Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129 There is paid parking at the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve parking lot or you can find parking at Canyonside Community Park.

Los Penasquitos

Mostly flat and with views of interesting scenery including waterfalls and streams, the trails at Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve are great for a leisurely stroll with kids or dogs.

Cedar Creek Falls
City: Ramona
Distance: 4.5 miles
Location: 15519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065 A permit is required to visit the falls.

cedar creek falls

The scenic waterfall and natural pool at the end of the trail is what draws many visitors to Cedar Creek Falls but it is sometimes said to be one of the most dangerous trails in the county–temperatures get extremely hot and underprepared hikers can suffer heat stroke if they don’t bring enough water. Calls for rescue are common because inexperienced hikers often underestimate how extreme the conditions can get. At the falls, people have been injured or died slipping off the cliffs and hitting the rocks below. Ceder Creek Falls can definitely be a challenging and fun hike, but be smart and be prepared. To limit the number of visitors, a permit is required: $6 for every 5 people.

Three Sisters Falls
City: Julian
Distance: 4 miles
Location: From 8 West, going North on Highway 79, turn left onto Riverside Drive. Make a left on Viejas Grade Rd, then turn right onto Oak Grove Drive. After 1.6 miles, turn right onto Boulder Creek Road and follow it North for 13 miles until you see a sign for the trail head on the left.

three sisters falls (source: SummitPost)

Like Cedar Creek Falls, this hike is known for its waterfall and is not for beginners. You’ll have to be prepared for steep inclines/declines, rock/boulder climbing, and sun exposure. Bring plenty of water and leave the pets at home. You might be disappointed to find a  dried up pool instead of a waterfall in the summer months but the trail to the falls is still a fun and challenging hike.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
City: Descanso
Distance: more than 100 miles of trails
Location: 13652 California 79, Julian, CA 92036

cuyamaca rancho state park(source: SummitPost)

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has a ton of trails for hikers to choose from with areas of woodlands, meadows, and waterfalls. One of the popular trails is the 6.7 r/t trail to Cuyamaca Peak (second highest peak in San Diego County) which rewards hikers with amazing views of Cleveland National Forest and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Stonewall Peak
City: Descanso
Distance: 4 miles
Location: 13652 CA-79, Julian, CA 92036 There is paid parking at the Paso Picacho campground which is right across the street from the trail head.

cuyamaca stonewall peak (source: Chris Ten Eyck/flickr)

This hike is a fairly easy, moderate hike in the Cuyamaca area with a well-maintained trail and plenty of trees providing shade along the way. At the peak is a spectacular view of Cuyamaca with the Palomar Observatory to the north, the Salton Sea to the east, and on a clear day, the ocean to the west and Mexico to the south.


For more hiking trails around San Diego, check out these great hiking guides:

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Diego: Including North, South and East Counties

Afoot and Afield: San Diego County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide