Although we lack monstrous snow-capped mountains, we do have lots of challenging peaks to hike. Sprinkled throughout San Diego, you can find lots of different hikes to experience. Whether you want to hike to a waterfall or hike a peak almost as tall as Yosemite’s half dome, San Diego has a hike for all ranges of skill levels. Find out what the 10 best hikes in San Diego are.
Easy Hikes in San Diego
Torrey Pines Beach Trail Loop – 2.3 Miles, 364 Ft. Elevation Gain
This heavily trafficked loop is not only one of the most popular hikes in San Diego, but one of the most scenic. Enjoy gorgeous views of the ocean while walking along steep cliffs. This loop takes you from the parking lot to the peak of the trail along a road, and down through dirt trails that drop you off at the beach. Walk back to your car along the beach. The trail features beautiful wildflowers in the springtime, and breathtaking sunsets every night.
Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail – 6.8 Miles, 147 Ft. Elevation Gain
This relatively flat hike takes you through the scenic Los Penasquitos Canyon where you will see a waterfall, streams and quite possibly a deer! Hike the entire loop and enjoy a picnic along the way or go explore the waterfall. Want to make this trail more difficult? Run it instead of walking it!
Moderate Hikes in San Diego
Kwaay Paay Peak – Mission Trails – 2.3 Miles, 875 Ft. Elevation Gain
Although it’s the shortest peak in Mission Trails, this hike will have your blood pumping for the amazing view at the top. This lightly trafficked hike is uphill the majority of the way with the steepest part being near the peak. The peak offers 360˚ views of San Diego. You will be able to see the 4 other peaks of Mission Trails, mountains in the distance and the ocean on a clear day.
Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Trail – Mission Trails – 4.5 Miles, 1,204 Ft. Elevation Gain
Avoid the high trafficked route from San Carlos and experience San Diego’s most popular hike from the Santee side. This side of the hike is not only more challenging but offers a quiet and more scenic route. You can expect to see another 360˚ view of all of San Diego and our surrounding cities. Hike to the top to see what all of the hype is about. Pro tip: to make this hike even harder, hike to Pyles Peak after climbing to the summit. This will add on an extra peak and 3 miles.
Iron Mountain – 5.2 Miles, 1,102 Ft. Elevation Gain
This heavily-trafficked trail in Poway is quite popular, but after experiencing how beautiful the hike is, you will understand why. This is one of the well-maintained trails in San Diego that offers little to no coverage from the sun but stunning views of San Diego’s rolling hills from the top. Drop by to see wildflowers, lush hills and lots of boulders!
Cedar Creek Falls – 4.9 Miles, 1,033 Ft. Elevation Gain
Located in Ramona, this beautiful and challenging hike offers you views of the Cedar Creek Waterfall that leads into a pond. This hike is popular for summer swimming! You should note that the hike to the waterfall is downhill while the hike back is uphill. This hike requires a permit so be sure to plan ahead of time.
Cuyamaca Peak Loop – 7.7 Miles, 1,833 Ft. Elevation Gain
Located near Cuyamaca Lake in Descanso, the Cuyamaca Peak Loop offers scenic pine trees and a small escape from San Diego’s desert terrain. The peak offers gorgeous views of San Diego County. Pro tip: hike the trail going counter-clockwise. This will offer you a harder but more scenic hike up with a paved road down.
Hard Hikes in San Diego
Three Sister’s Falls – 3.5 Miles, 1,036 Ft. Elevation Gain
Labeled as difficult for the steep hiking and minimal rock climbing, the Three Sister’s Falls hike in Descanso offers gorgeous views of a waterfall and creek. The trail recently underwent a renovation to provide an easier trail to the waterfalls. If you’re an adventurous type, take the old steep trail!
Mount Woodson – 6.9 Miles, 2,132 Ft. Elevation Gains
Also known as the Potato Chip Rock Trail, this is probably one of the most Instagrammed hikes in San Diego. Climb over 2000 feet through lush, boulder-filled hills to see some of the best views of San Diego in the County. Once you reach the Potato Chip Rock, you can expect to wait a while in line to take your pictures on this infamous rock.
El Cajon Mountain – 10.6 Miles, 3,576 Ft. Elevation Gain
Deemed as one of the toughest hikes in San Diego, El Cajon Mountain is challenging both mentally and physically. With ups-and-downs on both the way to the peak and the way to the trailhead, your legs won’t get much of a break. Don’t let the challenge steer you away, the views throughout the trail as well as at the peak are well worth it. Add on just another 1,300 feet to this hike, and you can complete Yosemite’s Half Dome!
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