Mission Trails Regional Park is the largest of the City of San Diego’s parks and is the third gem of the city’s park system. Mission Trails is larger than Mission Bay and Balboa parks combined. At 5,800 acres, it is the largest open space urban park west of the Mississippi. It includes two lakes, a scenic stretch of the San Diego River and Old Mission Dam; a day-use campground for picnics; and Cowles Mountain, whose summit offers a panoramic view of the city clear to the ocean. Over 40 miles of trails accommodate hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, birders, and equestrians. There are about 600 different types of plants within the park, including over 300 varieties of wildflowers.
Take a view of the locations of the numerous habitats that exist within the park. Various interpretive walks and special programs afford visitors unique, exciting outdoor educational and recreational experiences throughout the park on a regular basis. There are a number of points from which you can enter Mission Trails Regional Park: going east on Mission Gorge Road enter at the west end of Father Junipero Serra Trail to reach the Visitor Center, at the east end Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in the community of Tierrasanta, The Equestrian Staging Area at SR 52 & Mast Boulevard, at Jackson Drive and Mission Gorge Rd., at Cowles Mountain at the corner of Golfcrest Dr. & Navajo Road or from Barker Way or from Big Rock Road in Santee, or the east entrance of Father Junipero Serra Trail to drive to the Kumeyaay Lake Day-Use Campground and the Old Mission Dam.
Mission Trails Visitor & Interpretive Center
The hub of these activities is the 14,575 square foot Visitor and Interpretive Center which is located just 20 minutes from downtown San Diego and is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day except New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The park itself is open every day of the year. The Center features a rotating exhibition of works by local award winning artists, and in May of each year, photographs taken by shutterbugs in the annual amateur photography contest are on display.
The 4,000 square foot Visitor Center Terrace offers presents a spectacular view of Mission Gorge. The Amphitheater seats up to 150 people with a backdrop of Mission Gorge. The Visitor Center gift shop offers authentic local Kumeyaay Indian baskets, pottery and jewelry as well as unique photographic prints and books, each telling its own story about Mission Trails.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of the center’s state-of-the-art exhibits; they make learning about the park’s geology, plants, animals, and history fun and easy. The Visitor Center boasts a 94-seat theater featuring four films that run daily featuring captivating vistas of the park’s natural beauty, and the people who worked and lived here.
Featured Films Include:
Stewardship through the Ages
Mission Trails Regional Park: A Natural Beauty,
Mission Trails Regional Park…Link with the Past, Experienced Today,
Trails of the Kumeyaay,
Visitor Center Gallery
View from the Terrace
Events & Activities at Mission Trails
Free Guided Nature Walks Every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, Join an MTRP Trail Guide in the Visitor Center at 9:30 a.m. for a free guided nature walk and learn about the history, geology, plants, animals and ecology of the park.
Trail Guides choose from three trails:
1) The Oak Grove Trail leads to a small oak woodland with majestic coast live oaks and rare
2) The Visitor Center Loop Trail takes you through coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian
3) The Riverside Grinding Rocks Trail leads to one of the archaeological sites in the park,
Walks may also include the Native Plant Garden near the Visitor Center. These interpretive nature walks are offered to enhance your appreciation of our open space and the unique beauty of San Diego’s natural environment. Walks are free and open to the public, with no reservations required. Each walk lasts about an hour and a half. The trails used are easy, but have uneven surfaces and some involve steps, so be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes and bring along water. A hat and sunscreen are also recommended.
Guided Nature Walk from the Kumeyaay Campground Entry Station Guided nature walks, led by Trail Guides start from the Kumeyaay Campground Entry Station on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month from 8:30 – 10:00 a.m.
Trail Guides choose from three trails:
1) On the Kumeyaay Lake walk, you are surrounded by cottonwood and sycamore trees growing along-side dense willow thickets, the habitat of the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo.
2) On the walk to Old Mission Dam, a registered historic site, you learn the story of San Diego’s early efforts to achieve a reliable water supply.
3) The Oak Canyon Trail takes you along a narrow streambed with seasonal waterfalls and colorful wildflowers.
Walks may incorporate a portion of the Grasslands Trail. These interpretive nature walks are offered to enhance your appreciation of our open space and the unique beauty of San Diego’s natural environment. The walks are free and open to the public, with no reservations required. Each walk lasts about an hour and a half. The trails used are easy, but have uneven surfaces and some involve steps, so be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes and bring along water. A hat and sunscreen are also recommended. Walk canceled if it is raining.
Wildlife Tracking Walk:
The Moon will be two days short of being New. Consequently it will not contribute to light pollution. Many open clusters in Auriga, Gemini and Canis Major will be up. The Orion Nebula will be to the west of the Meridian, the imaginary great circle that intersects with the North and South Celestial Poles and passes through the observer’s position. Jupiter will be in the Western sky.
The second Friday of each month from sunset to 10 p.m. join members of the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA) at the Kumeyaay Lake Campground Day Use Parking Lot for another opportunity to explore the universe through their telescopes.
Join Trail Guide and Birder Winona Sollock for a free 90-minute class to learn 5 simple techniques for identifying birds in the field. You’ll also learn how to use a field guide, so bring one along if you have one. This free class meets the last Saturday of each month at 1 pm. in room “A” of the Visitor Center.
Art Classes: Children’s Art Classes with Nora Kearney-Johnson Nora’s Art Classes for children ages 5-12 are being offered from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. at the Mission Trails Visitor Center. Each class is a different topic and children may take home their art project each week. All art supplies are included. Each class is just $15. Save $5 by registering for an entire month of classes in any given month. The dates for the classes and weekly topics are on the website. Link for additional information and registration forms.
Red Tail Hawk
Children’s Art Classes
The Old Mission Dam, Camp Grounds, Hiking & Activity Areas
Old Mission Dam:
Equestrian Staging Area:
Hikers, joggers, equestrians, bicyclists, and all park visitors the park’s enjoy the entry facility at SR52 and Mast Boulevard. It is the best entrance to the Grasslands and the East Fortuna trail. It includes 18 pull-through spaces for equestrians, corrals, and separate parking for others. Picnic tables and barbeques are located throughout. The comfort station restrooms are open daily. Two areas are available for special events or for the cool down of horses after a good ride. Or just sit on a picnic bench and watch the hawks soar over San Diego’s Mission Trails park. This area is also the gateway to several trails including the Grasslands Loop Trail.
Kumeyaay Lake Campground:
• Hikers and cyclists are welcome to walk into the Campground to utilize the picnic tables while
This lake is very popular for bicycling, jogging, walking, rollerblading, and picnicking. Patrons can walk on paved road only as far as the dam gate (approximately 3.2 miles) and then must return, making it a 6.4-mile round trip. There are 10 barbecues and 64 picnic tables located around the lake. Patrons can bring their own barbecues for use in designated areas only. No ground fires or glass containers are allowed. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times and at least 50 feet away from the water. Dogs are not allowed on any boats. Smoking and alcohol are prohibited at Murray. Overnight camping is not allowed at Murray Reservoir.
They rent boats on a first come basis only, no reservations. They do have California state fishing licenses for sale. There is bait available – shiners, crawdads, nightcrawlers, meal worms and wax worms. Patrons can use credit cards for boat rentals and other purchases, but permits are cash only.
Watercraft In addition to fishing from boats, patrons can use float tubes, waders, or simply fish from shore. Use of float tubes is restricted to within 150 feet or less from shore. Float tubers must wear chest waders and have a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device readily available at all times, and have 144 square inches of international orange visible at least 12 inches above the water line. They must also possess a horn or whistle to warn approaching craft. Any float tube that uses oars or has a motor must purchase a private boat use permit.
Directions From Interstate 8: take Lake Murray Boulevard exit, turn right onto Lake Murray Boulevard, and turn left on Kiowa Drive, which leads to the reservoir entrance.
Hiking & Bicycling:
There are five primary peaks in Mission Trails: South Fortuna, North Fortuna, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay, and Cowles Mountain. The top of Cowles Mountain is the highest geographical point in the city of San Diego at 1,592 feet.
Mission Gorge Region
Cowles Mountain Region
West Fortuna Region
East Fortuna Region
Lake Murray Region
Old Mission Dam
Equestrian Staging Area
Kumeyaay Lake is adjacent to the Kumeyaay Lake Campground. From the parking area, walk north toward the lakeshore, past restrooms and picnic areas, where short paths lead either left or right. Interpretive signs here depict many of the bird varieties that can be found around the lake area, including the California blue-gray gnatcatcher, the common raven, the wrentit, California quail, the great blue heron, the great egret, mallard, American coot, great horned owl, Anna’s hummingbird, western scrub jay, red-winged black bird, black phoebe, California towhee, acorn woodpeckers, and the least Bell’s vireo. Also watch for birds of prey, including the osprey, white-tailed kite, American kestrel, red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and the red-tailed hawk. The sounds of birds and running water are joined in the late afternoon with the sounds of crickets and bullfrogs. Waterfowl glide across the lake surface, making hypnotic kinetic ripples.
The trail to the left (or west) crosses over a cement bridge that allows water from the San Diego River to flow into the lake. Just beyond are a small amphitheater and a replica of a Kumeyaay ‘ewaa, a hut made from the branches of willows. Slightly further is the locked gate, beyond which there is no entry. However, just to the south of the gate is a 0.1 mile shaded trail that leads to a view from the center of the lake. Shade trees around the lake include cottonwoods, sycamores, willows, and mule fat. From this point, retrace your steps back to the interpretive signs, which completes one mile. For a second mile, explore the route to the right (or east) until you reach the second locked gate on the north side of the lake.
Plants that may be in bloom include the yellow Hooker’s evening primrose, the pink California wild rose, whitish-pink California buckwheat, a golden prickly pear, the white blooming yerba mansa (or lizard tail), yellow dandelions and mustard, and pink thistles. Also look for curly dock, white-blooming ceanothus and jimsonweed, horehound, and tree tobacco.
Banquets at Mission Trails Regional Park
One Father Junipero Serra Tr.
Price: Call for pricing