Mission Trails Regional Park is a natural escape surprisingly close to the busyness of downtown San Diego. Just eight miles from downtown is one of the largest city parks in the United States. According to the Mission Trails Regional Park website, the park is made up of 7,220 acres of “both natural and developed recreational areas,” and includes over 60 miles of hiking trails.
The Five Peak Challenge within the park includes Cowles Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County at 1,592 feet in elevation. The other four peaks in the challenge are all above 1,000 feet and offer a great chance to exercise in a beautiful location with panoramic views of downtown, San Diego Bay and Point Loma. Margaret Mann, a PLNU junior visual art major, loves the Cowles Mountain hike.
“It’s short enough that anyone can do it, but just long enough to give you a little kick,” said Mann. “And it’s beautiful, especially at night when you can see the city and surrounding hills.”
Laura Dupont, a junior psychology major, added, “It’s a pretty short hike, so I enjoy doing it after dark to add a little something. From the top you can look out and see the lights which always reminds me of that song from LaLa Land.”
Another relaxing way to experience the beauty of the park is to make a visit to the Old Mission Dam, an easy two mile walk from the visitor center. The dam, which is 200 years old, offers a peaceful spot for a picnic or run.
Tom Thompson, a volunteer at the visitor center in the park, has been a trail guide for over eight years. He takes groups on free nature walks and also helps with the hundreds of students that come through the visitor’s center on a weekly basis. As he showed me the visitor center, he pointed out the 40 unique plants that could be spotted just from the sidewalk of the building. Despite an obvious love for the park he knows so well, Thompson says that it’s not without its downfalls.
“With any park, whether it’s a city, state or national park, one needs to achieve some sort of balance between getting people to come and see things and making it enough of nature that’s left to make it worthwhile,” said Thompson. “And that fight goes on in Congress, and with rangers and with people all the time.”
The most important message I left the park with was to remember to leave everything the way I found it and to be respectful of the beauty around me, that’s the only way it’s preserved.
Mission Trails Regional Park is located off the I-8 and the I-15 freeways, and is only a 25 minute drive from Point Loma. The visitor center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and free guided nature walks are offered at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Visit mtrp.org for more information about the Mission Trails Regional Park.