Route: Mission Trails Five Peak Challenge (CA)

Submitted by ATNEM on Mon, 07/06/2020 - 12:12pm
California, US
16.38 mi
Vertical Gain
4,416 ft

From November 7th, 2015 - June 26, 2020, 15,000 people completed the Mission Trails Regional Park 5-Peak Challenge.  The goal of the program was to challenge visitors to summit all five peaks in the Park - Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay, South Fortuna and North Fortuna.  Most complete each hike separately, taking a selfie at the top of each peak.  The route here, as described in the book “Afoot & Afield - San Diego County,” strings all five peaks together.  It starts at the Colina Dorada trailhead and works East, ending at the Cowles Mountain Trailhead.  In total, it gains 4,416 feet of elevation of 16.38 miles. Here's a route description:

The trail includes semi-technical singletrack that rolls through coastal chaparral, winding valleys of the San Diego river watershed, carved-granite and oak-tree lined canyon and steep climbs up the five peaks of Mission Trails Regional Park with limited sections of  wide dirt fire roads and 1.5 miles of residential neighborhood roads that connect the two halves of the route.  The trails are all well maintained and clearly marked, but given the multiple intersections, having the gpx route preloaded or a map on hand helps ensure you pick the correct turns.  Though only 16.4 miles, the 4,416 feet in elevation will certainly provide a workout!  There are multiple points of historic interest along the route, including the 1815 Old Mission Dam on the San Diego River and Kumeyaay Morteros used for grinding grains.  Following the challenge, a visit to the Mission Trails Visitor Center gives a wonderful overview of the site's unique and long heritage.  

The Five Peak Challenge route starts at the Colina Dorada trailhead on the wide Fortuna Saddle fire road.  After taking a slight right onto the San Diego River Crossing Trail at 0.5 miles, make another right onto the twisting singletrack of the Suycott Valley Trail at 0.8 miles.  At 1.3 miles, take a hard right to follow the South Fortuna Trail across the creek and then up the steep climb to the peak of South Fortuna at 2.3 miles and 1094 feet.  Head north down to the Fortuna Saddle and the next peak is North Fortuna which you'll reach at 3.5 miles and 1291 feet.  From there, retrace your steps back to the Fortuna Saddle and turn east down the steep Oak Canyon fire road.  After a half mile, turn right off of the fire road onto the gently winding Oak Canyon singletrack that follows the carved granite canyon down to the San Diego River Old Mission Dam.  Here is where you'll pass some of the largest Oak Trees in the area and after crossing the wood and steel bridge just west of the dam at 5.6 miles, the trail turns east again, crosses the Mission Dam parking area and then heads up the western access point for Kwaay Pay Peak.  Gaining nearly 1,000 feet in less than a mile, the climb here is the most technical and steep of the Challenge.  Reach the summit of Kwaay Pay at 7 miles and 1194 feet and then descend by retracing your steps for 0.75 miles, turn right to head to Junipero Serra Road which will start the 1.5 miles of residential roads that connect the two halves of the route.  From there cross Mission Gorge Road and turn right at 0.3 miles onto Rancho Fanita Road.  After 0.7 miles, take another right at the T-junction with Big Rock Road which will end after 0.2 miles at the Big Rock trailhead and northern approach to Cowles Mountain at 9.75 miles.  The singletrack will end at a T-junction with the Cowles Mountain Service Road at 11 miles where the climb continues another mile where you will summit Cowles at 1592 feet, the highest peak in the range.  The final peak of the challenge can only be accessed from the summit of Cowles via winding singletrack - Pyles Peak at mile 13.5 and 1379 feet.  From here, retrace your steps back to the summit of Cowles where you will turn to the south at mile 15 for the final rocky and well-traveled descent to the Cowles Mountain trailhead at the intersection of Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive. In all, you will have gained 4.416 feet of elevation over 16.4 miles.

For the Double, do it twice!  37 miles  /  9800' elevation gain.  And for the Triple do it 3 times of course.  56 miles.


GPS Track


Meant to post this yesterday, but forgot in the craziness of Halloween yesterday. I’m planning on running this route in about 20-30 minutes...

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Planning on running this route on 11/21/2020

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Planning to run this tomorrow 4/26/21. Plan is to run out and then reverse back the same route, not sure if that is an official "double" loop or not.

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Hello! I plan on attempting to set the women unsupported record on the 5 peaks challenge tomorrow ( June 27 2021 )