A Hiking Paradise in East County’s Backyard

Located just west of La Mesa and El Cajon Mission Trails Regional Park is a paradise for hikers. The park offers over 8,000 acres of natural space, and more than 60 miles of trails in the middle of urban San Diego. The park's stunning mountains, valleys, and open areas are ideal for hiking, camping, and exploring San Diego’s natural beauty.

About Mission Trails

Location

Located just north of the 8 freeway, and a short drive from many communities in East County San Diego, Mission Trails is practically in your backyard. Because it’s located in the heart of San Diego, San Diegans can take advantage of everything Mission Trails offers any day of the week, without worrying about a long drive. 

Whether you are a local looking for a nearby adventure or a visitor wanting to experience the natural beauty of East County, Mission Trails is easily accessible.  The park also provides plenty of parking and well-maintained facilities.

Weather

San Diego’s mild climate makes Mission Trails an excellent destination year-round. Whether you’re hiking in the early morning to beat the summer heat or enjoying the cooler temperatures of fall, spring, and winter, the park is always welcoming. 

Mission Trails’ weather is warm and dry in the summer summers and mild in the winter. Seasonal rains bring out gorgeous greenery and flowers, while clear days offer panoramic views of the city. Mission Trails has perfect activities for every season. From hiking in the cooler months and early summer mornings to visiting the park’s water features in the summer, to camping year-round.

Best Times of Year to Go

Mission Trails is wonderful any time of year. However, locals know the best times of year to take advantage of the park’s different features.

  • Beating the Heat: To beat the heat, locals recommend hiking or camping in the spring, fall, or winter when temperatures are cooler. Or if you’re an early bird, summer mornings are also a great time to go hiking.
  • Cooling Off: For the warm summer months, locals recommend taking advantage of the park’s water features, including Lake Murray, Kumeyaay Lake, and the San Diego River. All three allow fishing, and Lake Murray allows small boats such as kayaks and canoes.

The park is beautiful throughout the year, with each season offering unique experiences. 

Tips for Visiting

  • Spring/Fall: Bring layers, as temperatures can vary throughout the day.
  • Summer: Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Winter: Wear a light jacket and be prepared for cooler temperatures, especially in the mornings and evenings.

Regardless of the time of year, make sure you bring water. For safety, we also recommend not hiking alone.

Activities in Mission Trails

Hiking

With over 60 miles of trails varying from easy to difficult, Mission Trails offers something for every hiker. The park's trails wind through diverse terrains, from flat riverbeds to steep mountain peaks, providing a range of experiences for hikers of all skill levels.

Popular Trails

Father Junipero Serra Trail: This trail follows the San Diego River between Fortuna and Kwaay Paay mountains, providing a scenic and relatively flat route. The paved path makes it perfect for biking, running, or a leisurely walk. The 4.5-mile long out-and-back trail is considered relatively easy and is typically completed in about 1.5 hours.

Cowles Mountain: This mountain is the tallest peak within San Diego city limits and a favorite among locals. Cowles Mountain trail offers a moderately challenging hike with panoramic views of San Diego from the summit. This trail is a 3.0-mile out-and-back popular with hikers and runners and is typically completed in under 2 hours. 

Fortuna Mountains: Includes North and South Fortuna with the challenging Saddle Trail, offering hikers a rigorous workout and breathtaking vistas. There are multiple trail options for this hike, but one of the most popular is the South Fortuna and North Fortuna Loop, which is just shy of 7 miles and reaches both peaks. This route is typically completed in roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes.

5 Peaks Challenge: From 2015 to 2020, Mission Trails held the Five Peaks Challenge, where locals were challenged to hike the five tallest peaks in Mission Trails. While the challenge is no longer official, it is still a rewarding challenge and a way to experience the park’s diversity and test your endurance. In order of height, the peaks are Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, North Fortuna, Kwaay Paay, and South Fortuna.

Mission Trails offers hiking experiences for everyone, regardless of skill level. With breathtaking views and challenging trails, it’s no wonder this park is so popular with hikers.

Camping

The Kumeyaay Lake Campground offers a great spot for year-round camping. The campground is equipped with amenities, including restrooms, fire pits, and picnic areas, making it a comfortable and convenient base for your outdoor adventures. This is the only campsite in Mission Trails, and it has easy access to hiking trails including the Kwaay Paay trail, Father Junipero Serra Trail, and the North Fortuna Mountain Summit trail.

Lakes and Rivers

Lake Murray: Located at the southernmost part of Mission Trails, Lake Murray is the biggest lake in the park. The lake is ideal for boating, fishing, and relaxing by the water. There are boats for rent, and picnic tables throughout the park around the lake. Lake Murray is also a popular spot for runners, bikers, and hikers, as it has a paved road that goes along the perimeter of the lake.

Kumeyaay Lake: This lake is located along the San Diego River and is accessible from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground. The lake is a haven for birdwatchers and photographers, offering tranquil views and abundant wildlife. Fishing is allowed at this lake.

San Diego River: The San Diego River is fed by small streams and creeks up in Cleveland National Forest and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park that collect rainwater, snow melt, and spring water. The river lets out just south of Mission Bay. The river flows through the park, adding to its natural beauty.

It should be noted that swimming is not allowed at any of these locations.

Conclusion

Mission Trails Regional Park is a must-see destination for anyone in East County San Diego. Its vast natural beauty, diverse trails, and rich history provide endless opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply looking to enjoy the outdoors, Mission Trails has something to offer everyone.

So grab your hiking boots or pack your camping gear, and discover the natural wonder right in East County’s backyard.

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