Vien R. Guenther
Mt. Gower Trails – Mt. Gower Open Space Preserve, San Diego County
Updated: Jan 6
There are two hiking trails in the Mt. Gower Preserve. The shortest one is an easy 4-miles trail (round trip) leading to the Western View. The Mt. Gower Ridge Trail, however, is a challenging 8-mile trail to the summit, but a pleasant hiking experience if you want to tackle this route. Neither trail sees a lot of foot traffic, though this is a multi-use trail. The preserve, which is designated a wilderness, has 1,574-acres of dense chaparral, oak woods, yucca plants and other drought-tolerant native plants. Other interesting features in this preserve are the fascinating rock formations, sculpted by nature. This alone is worth hiking here.
Mt. Gower is named after George Gower, who was a member of the first surveying crew in the area back in the 1800s. In fact, he named this mountain for himself.
TO GET HERE
Coming from downtown San Diego, it’s about a 48-minute drive via CA-94 E/I25, the shortest route. Take I-8 E and CA-67 N to Mapleview St. then turn left to Ashwood St./Wildcat Canyon Road. At the intersection, turn right to San Vicente Road. You will be entering the San Diego Country Estates on this road. Turn left to Gunn Stage Road and continue all the way at the end of the road. Then follow the dirt road to the trailhead, about 0.3 miles.
Coming from Ramona, it’s about a 13-minute drive to the trailhead. From Main Street, take 3rd St/Old Julian Highway. This road continues to where it becomes Vista Ramona Road, turn right to Arena Way and then left to Gunn Stage Road.
-THE HIKE -
The best time to hike in the Preserve is during the cool days of Fall, Winter and Spring. But if you don’t mind the heat and you start really early or late afternoon then why not; you can hike here anytime except the whole month of August - they close this trail due to extreme summer heat. Carry with you plenty of water, as well as snacks and lunch if you want to stay longer. We always do, even on cool days.
From the trailhead, there is a sign that will point you to the trail you want to hike. To the left leads to the Western View while the trail to the right leads to Mt. Gower. Always be prepared for encountering wildlife - there are signs telling you that this is mountain lion country as well as rattlesnake habitat. Always check yourself for ticks after your hike - they are abundant here.
MT. GOWER WESTERN VIEW – 4.0 miles
This hike is classified as moderately difficult, but that also depends on your hiking capabilities. We find this trail easy since we are used to hiking in the high mountains of Colorado. This is a short hike, but the trail crosses a gulley, which means you have to climb back out of it both coming and going. Then the trail meanders with some switchbacks until you reach the top of the ridge.
Reaching the Western View point, there is an old bench on top where you can rest a while, have a snack and enjoy the surroundings before heading back down.
Part of the trail is not well-maintained, at least at that time when we hiked here early December last year. That may be because almost nobody uses it. Other than that, this route is pretty much a pleasant trail to hike. We did not encounter any hikers the whole time we were here, so I guess this is not the most popular trail in the preserve.
MT. GOWER RIDGE TRAIL – 8.0 miles
Now, this trail is double the miles of the Western View, but this is by far the better one between the two trails here in the preserve. It’s a bit difficult but worth huffing and puffing to the top. Although we only managed to reach the base of the summit pyramid on this hike, but we plan on hiking all the way to the top next time, once the weather cools off and the rattlesnakes are not so active.
This trail follows two ridges in the preserve, crossing a gulley and passing two meadows. From the first ridge, the trail descends down and crosses the gulley from where it climbs steeply to the other ridge. Down in the gulley the vegetation is lush and the temperature is cool. You will get a little shade from the trees here too. When we hiked here, it seemed like autumn was extended. The trees still had their Fall leaves even though it was already December.
From the gulley, you will see a water tank on top of the ridge. The trail passes this tank and follows the ridge all the way to the end, going over a number of sharp ups and downs along the way. Then it heads east crossing the Swartz Canyon to Mt. Gower.
The hardest part of the trail is till ahead, so it's good to have snacks with you for some energy boost. The view gets better as you reach this ridge so I suggest bring a camera with you, if you're into photography. There are plenty of photo ops along the way, it will be worth the extra weight to carry it with you.
Besides the beautiful view, the trail became interesting on the last uphill. The sculpted rocks along the trail are fascinating, but wait until you reach the plateau below the summit of Mt. Gower. If it's your first time to hike here, you will be amazed at the sculpted rocks you will find there. It's nature's rock art, granite "hoodoos", as someone called them. Totally different from the other rock sculptures we've seen in our many hiking adventures.
This trail exceeded our expectations for hiking in the preserve. It's full of surprises. At the base of Mt. Gower, exploring the many sculpted rocks is the fun part. You can let your imagination run wild looking at them. A bear paw? Mushroom? Needless to say, we hung out here for sometime. We had the place to ourselves until a couple arrived while we were having lunch.
It took us 7.5 miles (round trip) to reach the plateau below Mt. Gower; another quarter mile is all it takes to reach the top, although it is not the true summit, which is still a long distance away yet only a few feet higher. There is no trail to it; but what we, and most people, call the summit is what hikers come here to climb. Looking up from the plateau below the top, we didn't see any visible trail, but we know people have climbed it. There will be some scrambling to the top for sure, which will take time, so we decided to climb it next time.
I would say this is one of our favorite trails in San Diego County. There's not a lot of foot traffic, which is a plus hiking this trail. We will come back here for sure.
Bring plenty of water, snacks and lunch. Using hiking sticks is a big help, especially on the descent. We never hike without them. Proper hiking boots is also a big help. Make sure you have a hat and sunblock.
Mt. Gower Preserve Trails, captured by GPS and downloaded to Google Earth