C2C Training,Fitness,Hiking

San Diego 5 Peaks Challenge Trail Review

Have you heard of the 5-Peaks Challenge in San Diego? It’s located in Mission Trails Regional Park and essentially, if you climb the 5 highest peaks in that park, you are a successful 5-Peak Challenger! If you know me, you know I love a challenge, so this was a fun adventure.

The 5 Peaks Challenge is essentially the hardest day hike you can do in San Diego as you can see by the stats below. The only hike that rivals this locally is El Cajon Mountain. But, as it turns out, you don’t actually have to do them all in one day to be a successful challenger. You just need to do all 5, snap a photo of yourself at each summit marker and submit them to the ranger station and voila.

Photo Credit: https://mtrp.org/

But since we are actively training for the Cactus to Clouds hike later this Spring, doing them all in one day was the least we could do. It was fun, I’m glad I did it and in this post is a summary of what we learned in the event you plan to tackle this challenge yourself!

5-Peaks Challenge Statistics

Trail Distance* milesMy Pace23:08 mile
Summit Elevation** feetMy Duration5:58:24
Elevation Gain** feetWater Consumed1.5 Liter
My Distance15.4 milesDate | Time Hiked3/3/19 | 7:45 am
My Elevation4049 feetTemperature57 Start | 64 Finish

*Varies based on the route **See map above for summit elevations

5 Peaks Challenge Overview

This is a challenge and it takes a really long time! But because you go up and down so much, it really doesn’t feel that particularly hard at any one time and is manageable. The fact that I had hiked 4 of the 5 summits about a dozen times made it feel a little easier too (for me) I think.

We parked just off the 52 and hiked the peaks in this this order:

  • North Fortuna
  • South Fortuna
  • Kwaay
  • Cowels
  • Pyles

The first three (the Fortunas and Kwaay) link up and the last two (Cowels and Pyles) link up, but to get from the first three to the last two does require a short drive. There is a way to do it all on foot, but it adds concrete miles and more time to the day so we opted for the drive. Although, I do think we drove more than we needed to, see below.

I hiked this with by BFF Hiking buddy Tansy and we submitted all of our photos together 🙂

The Best Part Of 5 Peaks Challenge

  • It’s a fun challenge! With elevation gains and and multiple summits, you feel like a bad ass.
  • It’s a great workout and excellent training for the Cactus to Clouds monster hike.
  • You get to see a LOT of Mission Trails.
  • They give you a certificate. We still need to head back to the ranger station to collect ours, I’ll update this when we do!
  • It got me to climb the Kwaay mountain, which I’d never even heard of! We thought it was going to be easy at just 2.3 miles and 875 elevation out and back. We were wrong, that is a hard trail! Arguably the hardest in my opinion, but that is likely because I wasn’t expecting it.
We made it to #2: South Fortuna!

What I didn’t like about the 5 Peaks Challenge

  • This has nothing to do with the challenge, but we had been so bossed around by the rain this winter that we were hiking it rain or shine. So we had a very muddy, grey kinda of ‘meh’ day making for less than beautiful photos.
  • Again, nothing to do with the trails, I was slightly hungover. Yucky.
  • For whatever reason, Cowels is one of the most popular mountains in San Diego and it is always busy! Be prepared for lots of people and definitely take the back side service road to minimize being held up by people.
Headed to the only unknown Mountain: Kwaay

What I’d do Differently Next Time I Do the 5 Peaks Challenge

I think we would start in a different place to speed it up. I think if we had parked over by Old Mission Damn, we could knock out Kwaay first and then scamper over the Fortunas. That would likely save us quite a few flat miles to speed it all up. BTW — The heading up to the Fortunas on the Oak Canyon trail is likely my favorite part of this entire hike.

The tricky thing there is that parking lot is small and does not open until 8am (per the sign on the gate, although I’ve seen it open earlier). There is a larger parking lot outside the gate, but there is about 1/2 flat, asphalt road walk in on Father Juniper Serra Trail. But even with that, I still think that would have been more efficient.

I also think we might try driving a different/shorter driving route and different starting point to get over Pyles and Cowels. Instead of driving over to the backside of Cowels, it looks like the front side of Pyles is significantly closer. That also leads to a trail on Pyles I’ve never seen or been on before, so that might be fun!?

That was surprisingly HARD! #3 — Kwaay: DONE!

Fueling For the 5-Peaks Challenge

FOOD: I did not prepare for this hike like I have for some of my harder hikes, which is odd because it’s the most challenging. I think because it was so many smaller mountains that I’ve climbed so many times, I just didn’t think much about it. So the night before I ate pizza and drank way too much beer. On the trail I had a few snacks and a PB and J once we were finished.

WATER: I emptied my 1.5 Liters on this hike. Being on your feet for 6 hours with a hangover requires lots of water, even for my camel-like body. Because you get a nice break between mountains, there is plenty of time to refill your hydration packs.

5 Peaks Challenge Final Thoughts

I would definitely like to do this again and be more prepared physically. A better night of rest, better fuel and a more lovely day would be divine. Plus, it’s always fun to get better at something so shaving off time would be another victory.

Peak #5: Pyles Peak! Mustering up the energy to smile and jam all the way back down!
Check out this trail review of the 5 Peaks Challenge in Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego! Click To Tweet

Have you completed the 5 peaks challenge? What tips do you have? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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