Cowles Mountain

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Cowles Mountain
Cowles Mountain.JPG
Cowles Mountain as seen from San Diego. A remnant of the "S" can be seen near the summit.
Elevation 1,593 ft (486 m) NAVD 88[1]
Prominence 991 ft (302 m)[1]
Location San Diego County, California.
Coordinates 32°48′45″N 117°01′52″W / 32.8125497°N 117.0311403°W / 32.8125497; -117.0311403Coordinates: 32°48′45″N 117°01′52″W / 32.8125497°N 117.0311403°W / 32.8125497; -117.0311403[2]
Topo map USGS La Mesa
Easiest route Trail

Cowles Mountain is a prominent mountain within the city limits of San Diego, California and also within Mission Trails Regional Park, in a neighborhood known as San Carlos, San Diego. The mountain is named after George A. Cowles, an early ranching pioneer in San Diego County. Its 1,593-foot (486 m) summit is the highest point in the city of San Diego. The main trail to the summit is a popular hiking destination taking hundreds of people per day to a 360-degree panorama of San Diego County. The hike to the top is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long and an elevation change of about 950 feet (290 m). This trail is on the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road. A much-less-used but maintained trail begins near the intersection of Boulder Lake Avenue and Barker way. This trail meets the main trail near the summit.

On March 25th, 2013 the Cowles Mountain trail was closed for maintenance. It is now reopened.

San Diego State University[edit]

For many years Cowles Mountain was locally known as "S" Mountain. In 1931, 500 students from San Diego State University (SDSU) painted a 400-foot-tall (120 m) letter "S" on the side of the mountain, after which it took on its popular name.[3] In April 1942, during World War II, the local military ordered the S covered up for the sake of national security. After the war the painting tradition was resurrected. In the 1970s, the annual repainting tradition was discarded due to complaints from environmentalists but enjoyed a brief resurgence in the late 1980s.(see discussion page)

In 1991 the "S" was the basis of a prank by Seniors from nearby Patrick Henry High School. Overnight, the "S" was closed into a "9" and a crude "1" was added next to it. SDSU students eventually restored the "S" one last time.

The mountain, except for marked trails, is now a protected area, and the "S" has not been repainted for nearly two decades.

360 degree panorama taken from the top of Cowles Mountain.


While many people pronounce "Cowles" to rhyme with "bowels" or "towels," the pronunciation of the name should be like "Kohl's" (rhymes with "bowls") as this is how George Cowles's family was known.[4]


Cowles Mountain consists of Jurassic and early Cretaceous metavolcanic and shallow intrusive igneous rocks that are resistant to erosion, and never covered by later Cretaceous and Tertiary sedimentary overburden. Small plateaus on the south and east slopes are the remnants of an extensive terrestrial, near sea level erosional surface called the Poway Terrace that are now about 1,200 feet (370 m) in elevation. A prominent former seacliff on the west side rises above a now-dry wave-cut terrace, now mostly covered with suburban developments, at about 600 feet (180 m) in elevation.


  1. ^ a b "Cowles Mountain, California". Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  2. ^ "Cowles Mountain". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 
  3. ^ "SDSU from A-Z". San Diego State University. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  4. ^ "History". Mission Trails Regional Park Online.