Mission Trails Regional Park

Experience fun and nature at the Mission Trails Regional Park, one of America's largest urban parks.
Mission Trails Regional Park
Discover the Park
Park History
Save on Tours
Enjoy Nature
Fun at Mission Trails!
Where to Find It?
Planning Ahead
Stay Nearby

Highlights

Parks & Nature
Nature
Parking
Tips
Parks & Nature
Nature
Parking
Tips

Discover Mission Trails Regional Park

Map of Mission Trails Regional ParkA Small River at Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails Regional Park is one of America’s largest urban parks, with over 7,000 acres of both recreational areas and undeveloped nature. Located only 12 miles from Downtown San Diego, its central location provides a quick getaway for city dwellers to enjoy the mountains, lakes, valleys and open spaces that Mission Trails offers.

Mission Trails is so expansive - it has something to offer everyone! There are over 60 miles of hiking trails, including some of the Best Hikes in San Diego. You'll also find camping sites, boating, miles of mountain bike and equestrian trails, plus a top-notch Visitor's Center to check out!

Popular Hotels Nearby
Popular Hotels
Price
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
$172
Check Price
InterContinental San Diego
$188
Check Price
Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
$189
Check Price
Hilton San Diego Mission Valley
$128
Check Price

History of Mission Trails Regional Park

Early People

Mission Trails Regional Park was established in 1974, and has a rich history that dates back more than 10,000 years. The La Jollan culture followed by the San Dieguito people were the first groups identified by archeologists, having inhabited the area as long as 6,00 years ago. More than 30 archeological sites are scattered throughout the park, and evidence of their homes, tools and weapons provided insight into how they lived and farmed.

The Missionaries

In 1769, Catholic missionaries arrived in the area, led by a Franciscan priest, Father Junipero Serra, whose goal was to bring Christianity to the native people. The San Diego Mission de Alcala was established, and they soon found themselves searching for a water source. Check out our article to learn more about California Missions History.

The Old Mission Dam was built in Mission Gorge, presumably on the backs of Indian labor from the Mission, such as the Senyaweche. When the dam was completed in 1815, it was the most sizable project of its time. Constructed of stone and cement on exposed bedrock, the dam was 244 feet long and 13 feet wide.

Ownership

A few short years later, Mexico gained control of the California territory as a result of the war of Independence from Spain in 1822. However, Mexico lost the territory during the Mexican-American War of 1848, and California was finally granted its statehood from the United States in 1850. The Mission's lands were opened up to settlers in 1889, and many ranches and farms were purchased during this time.

Military Use

There is a strong Military History in San Diego. Military use of the land began in the area of Fortuna Mountain in 1917, and continued to be used as a military training ground for WWI, WWII and the Korean War. After multiple detonation accidents, ownership of the grounds was transferred to the city in 1960 and in 1993 the area was swept and many undetonated materials were recovered.

Creation of the Park

In the 1960s and 1970s, the area surrounding San Diego experienced a boom in development. City planners were in the process of creating two smaller parks at Lake Murray and Fortuna Mountain when the area of Cowles Mountain became available, and community members and civic leaders joined forces to create the blueprint for the current Mission Trails Regional Park.

The name of the park was finalized in 1979, through a community wide naming contest.

Go Hiking with Go Pass!
San Diego Hiking Tour
San Diego Hiking Tour
San Diego is not just sunny beaches, but home to some of the best hiking in the country. With Go Pass, choose from two trails for your hike. Mission Trails Regional Park and Tecolote Canyon Trails offer trails for beginners and experts!
Buy Now
Local Tips
What activities does the Go Pass include?

There’s a variety of activities included with the Go San Diego Pass such as: The San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, Hiking Tours, Whale Watching, Snorkel Rentals, Museum Tours, Speed Boat Adventures and more!

For the most popular attractions and water-sport rentals as well as the biggest discounts, consider the All-Inclusive Pass.

Enjoy Nature at Mission Trails

There are multiple habitats at the park, including oak woodland, chaparral, grassland, sage scrub, aquatic and riparian. Vegetation varies greatly, based on the area and elevation of the park.

Multiple species of birds and insects make their home throughout the park. Deer, coyote, fox and cougars are a few of the mammals that you may encounter when visiting. There are also many snakes, so be certain to keep an eye out!

Fun at Mission Trails!

Enjoy the Trails

Mission Trails consists of five sections: West Fortuna, East Fortuna, Mission Gorge, Cowles Mountain, and Lake Murray. Each area is unique, and offers visitors the opportunity to experience various terrains and wildlife.

Hikers, equestrians, runners and mountain bikers alike love the variety of trails at Mission Trails. There are over 60 miles of trails for all ages and fitness levels. Depending on which trail you choose, expect to see SoCal nature at it's finest, from colorful wildflowers to incredible mountain top views.

Top Trails

The Visitor's Center Loop is a great choice for families or novice hikers. It is a 1.5 mile loop with a slight elevation that runs along the San Diego River. There are multiple places to stop for shade, and you can expect to see beautiful wildflowers throughout.

Local Tips
Helping the Park
Choose from a range of MTRP branded products (three t-shirt styles, hats, etc.), toys, books for adults and children, botanical soaps, notecards, and more. All proceeds support the park through the MTRP Foundation.

The Cowles Mountain Trail is one of the most popular trails at the park, and is rated as moderate. It is a 3 mile out-and-back trail with the trailhead starting in the San Carlos neighborhood. The summit of this trail is a real reward- 360 views of San Diego, Mexico, North County and Orange Country from the top of Cowles Mountain.

Another well-traveled trail is the Father Junipero Serra Trail, which is a 4.5 mile out-and-back trail that follows the canyon that splits Kwaay Paay and South Fortuna. It is fully paved, which makes it a popular choice among those with baby strollers or wheelchairs.

The Oak Canyon Trail to South Fortuna Trail is considered one of the most difficult hikes in the park. It is a 10.3 mile out-and-back trail, gaining over 2,300 feet in elevation. This trail can be used to access both North and South Fortuna summits, with truly incredible views!

Tackle the 5-Peak Challenge!

The 5 Peak Challenge was created in 2015 to bring awareness to the less-traveled parts of Mission Trails, and to redistribute trail traffic. The challenge is to hike the 5 main peaks in the park, and take a selfie next to the sign at each summit. The five main peaks are Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay Peak, South Fortuna, and North Fortuna.

This does not have to be completed in one day, and only approximately 5% of hikers complete it in one day. In total, the challenge covers approximately 12 miles, and hikers gain a maximum elevation of 1,592 feet at Cowles Mountain, which is the highest peak in the city of San Diego. Those highly trained athletes who do complete it in one day typically take about 6 hours.

Successful finishers are able to claim a logo pin and certification of completion from the Visitor Center. Dogs are welcome to join the challenge, and can even earn their own certificate, but unfortunately canine hikers are not awarded logo pins.

Check out the Visitor and Interpretive Center

The 14,500 square foot Visitor and Interpretive Center is impressive in both size and offerings. Many visitors come to the center for the thrilling view of Mission Gorge! Head out to the terrace and prepare to be wowed.

At the Visitor Center, there is information on the various trails, camping, boating and guided hikes and registration for programs. Visitors can also use the gleaming restrooms, or fill up their water bottles at the water station before setting off on the trails. The center is open daily from 9am-5pm, and is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day.

The center offers many educational programs and exhibits for visitors to learn about the history and wildlife at Mission Trails. There is a 94 seat theater, with a rotating schedule of shows focusing on the people and nature of the area. There is also a library, art gallery and gift shop offering authentic treasures unique to Mission Trails.

Also Camping, Boating and Fishing!

In April 2000, the park opened 46 campsites at Kumeyaay Lake Campground, as an addition to the San Diego Camping scene. Reservations are required, and all fees must be paid online in advance. The campground offers picnic tables, BBQ grills and fire rings.

Boating and fishing are very popular in the Lake Murray area. The season runs from November-Labor Day, and during that time the lake is brimming with trout, catfish, and largemouth bass, among others. There is a concessionaire which offers bait and tackle, fishing permits, boat and canoe rentals.

Featured Hotel
Hilton San Diego Mission Valley
Outdoor swimming pool, Hilton San Diego Mission Valley
Families
Families
Near Bay
Near Bay
SeaWorld
SeaWorld
4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars
Whether you are traveling by yourself or with your family, you can find what you are looking for at Hilton San Diego Mission Valley: comfort and convenience.
Prices Starting at $128
Check Availability

Where to Find Mission Trails Regional Park

Free Parking
Free Parking
Lot Parking
Lot Parking
Neighborhood Parking
Neighborhood Parking
Street Parking
Street Parking

Mission Trails Regional Park is centrally located, only about 8 miles from downtown San Diego. There are three areas for car destinations: The Visitor Center, Old Mission Dam and Kumeyaay Campground.

The Visitor Center is located at One Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA. From Interstate 8, take the Mission Gorge Road/Fairmount Avenue exit, then turn north onto Mission Gorge Road for just over 4 miles. You'll see the large Mission Trails Regional Park sign on the left, and then turn left onto Father Junipero Serra Trail.

The parking lot for the Visitor's Center is on the left. Although the Visitor Center is open from 9am-5pm daily, the gates close at 5pm (Nov-March) and 7pm (April-October). If you're planning to stay in the park later, park outside of the gates.

From Route 52 east, take the Santee exit, and turn left on Mast Boulevard. After going under the freeway, turn right onto West Hills Parkway to Mission Gorge Road. Turn right, then continue on Mission Gorge Road for 2.4 miles.

When you see the large Mission Trails Regional Park sign, turn right onto Father Junipero Serra Trail. This will be a one way road until after you get to Old Mission Dam. This road will give you access to all three parking lots.

Planning Ahead

Trail Etiquette

Please respect the park, it's flora and wildlife, and fellow visitors at all times. Remain on the trails and stay out of unauthorized areas. Mountain bikers must keep their speed to 10mph or less. Bicyclists yield to hikers and equestrians, as hikers also yield to equestrians.

Do not disturb any wildlife or vegetation in the park, and remember if you packed it in, you must pack it out. Our goal is to Leave No Trace!

Prohibited activities

Dogs are welcome on the trails, provided they are on a leash 8 feet or less and cleaned up after. Motor vehicles, glass containers, alcoholic beverages, smoking, fireworks and open fires are strictly prohibited. Groups of 50 or more must obtain a permit before gathering in the park.

Plan ahead

It is recommended to wear sturdy shoes with a strong grip, as many of the trails are steep at points. Don't forget sun coverage, as much of the park is exposed to full sun! It is recommended to bring extra water for you (and your dog, if they're joining you).

Feel free to stop by the Visitor Center to refill your water bottles during your visit. If you're planning a lengthy hike, pack trail friendly snacks such as nuts, fruit, granola or energy bars.

Other park rules

Camping and fishing are only permitted in designated areas. Proper fishing license is required, and may be purchased as the concessionaire at Lake Murray. Ball playing is not permitted in the park, and children under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet when biking, skateboarding, riding a scooter or roller skating.

Looking to Save on Tickets?
Save on Tickets
Explore all that San Diego has to offer & save up to 55% on attractions
This Month's Forecast
48°F / 69°F
Sunny in December
Jan
48°F / 68°F
Sunny in January
Feb
49°F / 69°F
Sunny in February
Mar
52°F / 70°F
Sunny in March

Stay Nearby

Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
Bayfront
4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
from $172 / night
View Hotel
InterContinental San Diego
Bayfront
4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating
InterContinental San Diego
from $188 / night
View Hotel
Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
Near Petco Park
4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating
Hard Rock Hotel San Diego
from $189 / night
View Hotel
Hilton San Diego Mission Valley
Family Friendly
4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating4 Star Rating
Hilton San Diego Mission Valley
from $128 / night
View Hotel
Show more San Diego Hotels >>
Tours & Adventures
Hop On & Off Narrated Trolley Tour
Hop On & Off Narrated Trolley Tour
$42 per person
Buy Now
San Diego Harbor Cruise
San Diego Harbor Cruise
$28 per person
Buy Now
Looking for Something Different?
More San Diego Parks & Nature