Mission Trails Guide Part I: The Overview & Basics You Should Know!

If you live in a major city on the west coast and are looking for a quick, natural place to escape the urban hustle and bustle, then a trip to the Mission Trails Regional Park is an excellent option.

It has aptly been labeled the third jewel of the city (along with Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park) and encompasses over 7,000 acres of both recreational and natural areas. The stunning valleys, hills and open areas offer visitors an unforgettable experience:


mission trails regional park

A Short History of the Mission Trails

Located only eight miles north of downtown San Diego, this natural park provides visitors a unique way to explore the cultural, recreational, and historical aspects of San Diego. One of the largest parks in the United States, Mission Trails Regional Park opened its doors to the public in 1974 and was originally used by the Kumeyaay. The park houses the Old Mission Dam, originally constructed to supply water to the city.


old mission dam at mission trails regional park


In the 1960s the Navajo Community area, which encompasses today’s Mission Trails Regional Park, started to grow in population density. The City of San Diego decided a planned urban park was needed and set aside 1,765 acres of open space that embraced Fortuna Mountain, Old Mission Dam and Mission Gorge. But it was not until the 1980s when aggressive fundraising took place and plans to create a park were established.

Land acquisition was successfully launched, and a total of 6,000 acres was acquired between 1981 and 1984. In 1985, a master development plan was approved by the San Diego City Council, a park image was established, and signs were erected. In 1989, the first park ranger was hired, and the park’s advertising program began.


Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center

In 1995, the impressive Mission Trails Regional Visitor Center was opened to the public, which showcased the high terrain around the park. Today, Mission Trails Regional Park is fulfilling its mission to the community with a broad range of educational activities that includes classes, lectures, organized hikes and other informal outdoor recreational activities.

Any travel plans to the west coast that omits a visit to the park’s Visitor Center would be just unthinkable! It’s a beautiful and unique venue for meetings and planned events like weddings and parties, fundraisers, corporate events and anniversaries. The Center is a hive of activity, and each day you’ll find people starting off for hikes or cooling down after completing long mountain bike rides.

mission trails regional park visitor center


Here you can learn about the parks history, animal communities and natural plants. The main Park Administration Office is located here, and you can also obtain information about the various activities and destinations available within the park.

It’s open daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, but closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The highlight of the day is the 94-seat theater that runs four shows each day.

The Main Trails of Mission Trails!

The main trails in Mission Trail Regional Park are an excellent place to hike. It’s easy to park outside the Visitor Center and take a walk toward the Dam. It’s a straight road where people of all fitness levels can walk on one side and cars can drive through on the other side. The moment you arrive, the first thing you notice are the huge rocks, which are easily accessible.

Take advantage of all the rock-climbing opportunities that you can see right away! There are trails for every level of ability: hiking, running, walking, biking and skating. They allow dogs, and everyone is welcomed for a piece of the action. The park is accessible 24/7 and is a photographer’s delight. However, keep in mind, that the parking is not permissible past sunset behind the gates (unless you don’t mind your vehicle getting locked in until sunrise!)  If you love deer stalking, bird watching or just about any wildlife, you will not be disappointed, as there is a great array available.


mission trails wildlife!


Be sure to bring enough to eat and drink because the sojourn into this wilderness promises endless and timeless excursions. Here are the main trails, which will be discussed in length in a following article:

1. The Cowles Mountain Trail is the highest peak within the San Diego city limits. Once you get to the top, you will see a beautiful view of San Diego and its surrounding areas.


cowles mountain at mission trails


2. The South Fortuna Mountain Trail is a six mile, lightly trafficked loop trail that features beautiful wild flowers. It’s popular with hiking, running, walking and nature trips.

3. Pyles Peak is a 7.7 mile, little-trafficked out and back trail featuring beautiful wildflowers. You can also access it from the Cowles Mountain trail, and you can see the same beautiful view from the top if you want to hike a longer distance.

4. The Fortuna Mountain Trail is a 6.2 mile little-trafficked loop near San Diego, it features a waterfall and is one of the most difficult to hike. Dogs are best kept leashed if you take them along.

5. The Visitor Center Loop Trail is a 1.4 mile loop that is heavily trafficked and features a river, a forest with sycamores, Juncus trees, and willows.


mission trails visitor trail


6. Kwaay Paay Peak Trail is a 2.3 mile, moderately trafficked out and back trail near Santee, featuring wildflowers.

7. Oak Canyon Grassland is a 6.8 mile, light-trafficked loop trail near San Diego. It features a river and is popular with all skill levels.

8. Big Rock Trail is a 4.2 mile, moderately trafficked loop near Santee and offers the opportunity to see wildlife.

9. Grassland Loop is a 4.4 mile, little-trafficked loop trail and features a river. Dogs are welcome on a leash.


grasslands trail at mission trails


10. Rim Trail is a 4.5 mile, little-trafficked loop trail rated as moderate and features wildflowers.

11. Old Dam South Fortuna is a 7 mile, lightly trafficked trail located near San Diego.


south fortuna at mission trails regional park

The East Fortuna entrance of the park is an area exclusively dedicated to mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking. Parking is available for 47 cars and 15 vehicles with horse trailers. There are four horse corrals available for public use, and gates open from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm, November through March, and 8.00am to 7.00 pm April through to October every year.

So whether you are there for the exercise, to learn about wildlife, or just to drive your car through and get some fresh air, this park is pleasing to the eyes AND the mind. It’s also a great bonding experience with a group of friends or your pets!

Cowles Mountain Hike Guide – Conquering Cowles Mountain With Ease!

About Cowles Mountain Hike

Cowles Mountain Trail (officially supposed to be pronounced “Coals” yet all of my friends have pronounced it Cow-lz for years!) is a wonderfully scenic hiking excursion located in San Diego, California. Well known to many of the locals and a desired hiking destination to avid adventurers around the nation, the trail can be found within the limits of the Mission Trails Regional Park, a sprawling 5,800 acre preserve. The summit of the trail boasts an elevation of 1,593 feet above sea level, making it the highest point in the city of San Diego, located in the San Carlos neighborhood.

cowles mountain san diego

Back To The Name: Cowles Vs. Coals!

Cowles Mountain was named after George A. Cowles (1836-1887). Mr. Cowles was a prominent business leader and rancher in 19th century San Diego.

Originally from Hartford, Connecticut, Mr. Cowles and his wife, Jennie, first visited San Diego in 1873. In 1877, Mr. Cowels began ranching in the area. He became so prominent in San Diego and left such an imprint on the community that “S” Mountain, as Cowles Mountain was previously known, was renamed after Mr. Cowles’ namesake.

george cowles and S Mountain

Mission Trails Regional State Park

As previously mentioned, the park in which Cowles Mountain is located is an open 5,800 acre State Park. Established in 1974, it is not only the 7th largest outdoor urban park in the U.S., but is also the country’s 6th largest municipality owned park. The park gives a good mix of rugged hiking, biking and enjoying a walk with your friends as it has over sixty miles of trails.

You can get more familiar with the Cowles Mountain Hiking Trail as well as other trails in the area by stopping by the Mission Trails Regional State Park Visitor Center before you head up the mountain. Here, you will be able to learn about the native animal and plant life, and get more in depth information about the history of the park. This will better prepare you for the trip ahead and give you the knowledge you need to stay safe and respect the park.

The Visitors Center is open daily from 9:00 to 5:00, excluding holidays.

mission trails visitors center

How Do I Get To The Cowles Mountain Hike?

Native San Diegans needn’t travel far to experience the wonders of nature, as the Cowles Mountain Hiking Trail is right in their back yard. If you are from the area, depending on where exactly you live, the trail is less than a 15 mile journey.

If you are flying in, the nearest airport to travel to is the San Diego International Airport.

When you arrive at Mission Trails Regional State Park, you will find a free parking lot of about 15-20 spaces. If the parking lot is full, as the trail attracts hundreds of visitors every day, there is free street parking available as well.

cowles mountain san diego street parking

Preparing For The Cowles Mountain Hike

The length of the trail from start to finish is about 3 miles. Given the 950’ vertical assent, you can expect for the round trip to take about 2 to 3 hours to complete, depending on your activity level. If you are planning to take this hike, it is important that you do the following:

1. Wear Comfortable Clothing And Shoes

Always check the weather before you go on a hike to be able to make an informed decision on the type of clothing that is best to wear for that day. The weather on the mountain ranges from snowy in the winter to scorching during the summer, so plan accordingly.

Aside from clothing, footwear is another important factor when hiking for an extending period. Suggested shoes are comfortable hiking boots or tennis shoes.

cowles mountain hiking trail

2. Bring Plenty Of Water

This is pretty self explanatory, but the trail can be steep at times and you will be exerting yourself for a few hours. It is a good idea to stay hydrated for this trip.  Most people find themselves wishing they had packed extra water, no matter how fit they are as hikers!

3. Pack Snacks Or A Lunch

The duration of the hike, being a few hours long, may leave your stomach growling at the top. You can pack a lunch to have a picnic with unbeatable views, or just some snacks to keep you going. Regardless, have something with you in the event you get hungry.

pack a snack for cowles mountain top!

4. Check The Weather

This is important not only to know the proper attire for your hike, but you don’t want to be stuck at the top of the 1,593’ peek if there’s going to be a storm.

5. Wear Sunscreen

California is a wonderfully sunny state, but it is always important to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun.

6. Bring A Friend

Although the trail is usually populated with eager hikers making their way to the top, it doesn’t hurt to bring a pal with you. Safety in numbers, after all!

top of cowles

Attributes Of The Trail

You will start your hike off walking along a dusty orange path with wooden railings alongside you. The further you get up the mountain, the terrain gets rockier, so be sure to watch your step. The rugged, dirt trail continues onward until you reach the summit.

In the summer, always watch out for snakes because you will almost certainly run into one at some point. This bad boy is pretty prominent:

red diamond rattler snake on the cowles mntn trail

While most snakes will scurry off or stay off the trails, be careful as some may be spotted on the trail where humans walk or very close, to the side of the trail.  Just a heads up!

The Summit

At the peak, you will be greeted with an informative marker giving basic trail history and information. The summit is the absolute shining gem of this trek, the reason hundreds of hikers take the journey every day. The view offers a panoramic 360-degree view of the most beautiful landscape California has to offer. If you decide to take your hike on a clear enough day, you may even be able to see Tijuana from the summit.

cowles mountain summit

Can I Bring My Dog On The Cowles Mountain Hike?

The trail is dog friendly, permitted your pooch is on a leash. Be courteous to other travelers and clean up after your dog if they have to do their business on the hike. It is advised that you bring plenty of water for your pet as well as yourself. In the summer, the trail can get very hot, so make sure you get protection for their paws or just don’t bring them with you that day.

Other Places To Visit Near Cowles Mountain Trail

If you enjoyed your hike up Cowles Mountain, here are a few other places to check out nearby:

Kwaay Paay Peak

This Kwaay Paay Peak is a moderate 2.5 mile trail in Mission Trail Regional State Park. It does not get as much traffic as Cowles Mountain, but is worth the trek for the surrounding, mountainous beauty. Dogs are allowed, but bikes are not.

Kwaay Paay

Big Rock Park

Another natural attraction, Big Rock Park is a trailhead in Santee, California, that you can actually take to get to the summit of Cowles Mountain. The total trail distance is 5.2 miles, making for a 1.5 – 2 hour trip to the top of the mountain.

Pyle’s Peak

Pyle’s Peak is notably the second highest peak in Mission Trail Regional State Park, right behind Cowles Mountain. It is a bit of a longer trail at 7.7 miles, but you will see enchanting wild flowers and breathtaking views of the surrounding areas.

pyle's peak

Top 7 Tips To Improve The Value of Your Santee Home

One of the best moments of any person’s life is when they own a house of their own. However, home ownership is a huge investment and comes with a lot of responsibilities. Every home owner should always make an effort to maintain the value of their home and if possible, increase it.

Due to a number of reasons, you may have to sell your home. Selling a home in Santee, especially an old one, is not as easy as it sounds. Santee is known for its vibrant residential real estate market, hence competition is stiff. You have to compete against brand new homes with modern features.

If your home is not up to the standards of the competing homes on the market, you might have to settle for a much lower price. To avoid this, you need to constantly make improvements to your home. Below are 7 great home improvement ideas to raise the value of your home.

1. Boost Kitchen Storage


new kitchen


One of the major selling points for houses, especially for female buyers, is the kitchen. The heart of every home, for most, is in the kitchen. Women love a kitchen with enough space to store all their kitchenware and food. Consider adding a few extra cabinets or shelves on any unclaimed area available. If you have the space, you can add a kitchen island where you can have the cooker, extra storage cabinets, and an extra sink.


2. Get A New Paint Job

The quality of the paint job says a lot about a home. Giving it a fresh coat of paint is the best way to keep your house looking new. When choosing colors, always go with the neutral colors that will appeal to more people. Another great way to make your walls look modern is to install wallpaper. There are many designs you can choose to give your home that elegant touch.


3. Floor Improvement


epoxy bathroom floor


The quality of the floor has a significant impact on the house price. Some flooring materials are considered more luxurious. For instance, hardwood floors are more expensive than tiled floors. Replacing the floors can be costly, so it is advisable to hire a reputable company to handle the job. You can always replace your existing floor with a modern-looking epoxy floor from Best Coast Epoxy Coatings.


4. Hire Professional Gardening Services

First impressions matter a lot. Before entering your home, the first thing a buyer will see is the front lawn and the surrounding trees and vegetation. Overgrown lawns, and oversized bushes and shrubs will surely knock a few bucks off of your asking price. A professional gardener will have your lawn looking even and clean for just a few hundred bucks.


5. Update The Home Entrance Area


home entrance


Your front porch, the front door, and entrance is the first place your guests will see as they enter your home. Your entry door is an architectural component that should complement your home’s overall design. If your current door is not up to par, visit your local home improvement store and choose the door that will grab the attention of your guests.


6. Go Green

The fight to protect the environment has never been more important than it is now. Luckily, more people are joining the ‘going green’ campaign to help preserve the world for our future generations. Scientists have come up with many ways you can reduce the carbon footprint of your house. For instance, you can install double glazed windows or solar panels to help save on your energy bills. Planting trees is another great way to show you care for the environment.


7. Clean Your Home


house cleaning


We all have those rooms or spots in the house that never get cleaned. Dirt is a major turnoff for any home buyer. In order to attract a better price for your home, every inch of the house needs to be clean at all times. Avoid clutter in the walkways and sitting rooms. If you have carpets, consider hiring professional cleaners to do the job.

Home improvement should be a constant consideration from the moment you buy your home to the day you sell it. You don’t have to wait for something to break down. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to seek professional help, there are many cheap ways to improve your home without digging too deep into your pockets.

How To Enjoy A Beautiful Day In Lake Murray

overview of reservoir - Lake Murray

Lake Murray Overview

Lake Murray is a reservoir located between San Diego and nearby La Mesa and Santee. It covers 171 acres of land, has a shoreline of a little over 3 miles, and the water can be up to 95 feet deep. There is a concrete walking path around the lake that allows people to walk, bike, or roller blade for almost 6.5 miles round trip.

Some people view this as an alternative to hiking Cowles Mountain, where they want to have a more relaxing walk. The trail does not go all the way around the lake, so you must stop at 3.2 miles and then head back.

If you want a nice day at the park for a picnic, they have over 60 picnic tables and 10 grills to use, or you can bring your own grill. They don’t allow you to build fires or use glass containers. It’s open 7 days a week, from sunrise to sunset, so there’s plenty of time for nice day vacations.

Are Dogs Allowed At Lake Murray?

Dogs are allowed, so you can take them for a walk and then let them enjoy the outdoors as you picnic! They must always be leashed, however, and stay a certain distance from the water. The trail may get hot in the summer, so please consider that when walking your dog, as their paws can get severely burned.

people walking around lake

You can also rent boats and go fishing, or bring your own boat and gear. The concession stand sells fishing licenses and permits if you don’t have them.

They sell bait as well, and the lake is regularly stocked with many kinds of fish, including bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. There are rules as to how many you can catch and the minimum sizes you can keep, so make sure you know before you go out on the lake.

You don’t have to rent a boat to fish, as you can also use float tubes, wade by the shore or just throw your line in at the edge of the water.

pic of guy fishing

If you’re not fishing and just want to go out on boat for a pleasure cruise, you can rent boats and kayaks, or you can bring your own as well; a kayak such as a Sun Dolphin Bali would be perfect whether you want to fish or kayak leisurely. They may charge you for launching your own boat, so make sure to check with them first.

There is plenty of parking, even on the weekend. Some people go just to watch the beautiful sunset over the trees after a hard day at work. There’s ducks there to feed (as well as other birds), but a good tip for that is to feed them leafy greens or thawed frozen peas, not bread or crackers, which contain very little nutrition.

geese at Lake Murray

The walking trail is flat and the park is very peaceful and quiet. However, if it’s a hot day, the lack of sufficient shade might be a problem if you don’t have some sunscreen.

Bringing Your Camera Is A MUST!

Be sure to take a camera, as there are many beautiful sites and wildlife to take pictures of. There are almost 150 species of birds at Lake Murray, so if you’re a bird lover, this would be perfect for you. The park itself is clean with lots of green scenery that everyone would love!

San Diego Pride 2017

Are you ready for pride season? If not, time to get started! The Target in San Diego is selling Pride gear (rainbow colored shirts, hats, and more in support of LGBT people!)

When Is San Diego Pride 2017?

Glad you asked! This year, San Diego Pride 2017 is on July 14-16th.  Here’s the first promo video for it:

Top 10 Things To Do In San Diego

People love San Diego for the weather we have, the friendly faces, the wildlife, and so many amazing activities to do, that it can be overwhelming to organize everything.

Following is a great video that lists the top 10 things you can do and enjoy in San Diego:

How A Day At Santee Lakes Can Relax YOU!

Recently I realized I needed a ‘chill day’ away from everything and everybody. I took State Route 52 up to Santee, a small city in San Diego County, California.

highway to Santee

Once there, I headed directly to Santee Lakes Park. This well maintained, clean park is laid out in such a way that, although there were several visitors there, there’s a feeling of having the whole place to yourself, which is exactly what I needed.

I parked my SUV in the lot, grabbed my kit and headed on foot to the General Store to inquire about kayak rentals. I usually go to Mission Bay so I searched and called kayak rentals San Diego to be on the open ocean, but this time I wanted to come inland a little. Anyway, in next to no time, my kit and I were heading out on the lake in our kayak.

floating cabins

I paddled around in search of a spot to do some trout fishing, but I don’t know how serious I was about actually catching any fish. I had only brought a couple snacks to munch on, so I could only stay so long. I planned to stop and eat at one of the delightful little restaurants in Santee. But for the moment, fishing was a great therapy for the stress I was offloading.

I found the ideal spot pretty quickly and a marker I could remember for later, to come back to, in case I caught a lot of fish. This could not have been better planned if I had done it myself. Here I could sit comfortably, my line cast, my cooler of cold brews in front of me and contemplate the wonders of tranquility which surrounded me on all sides.

lakes in Santee

I caught a couple fish, but threw them back, since I was just there for the entertainment of actually catching some. If you find yourself stressed, I recommend you plan a day on the lake at Santee Lakes.

I won’t tell you how to find my fishing spot, but I can guarantee you will, as I did, return destressed, relaxed and refreshed!

Santee Lakes – A Beautiful Day Or Vacation Stay!

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is one of the best staycation spots in California. Kids and adults are definitely going to have fun during their stay with the many recreational activities the park has to choose from. You can boat, camp, rent a cabin, get in some exercise, or just sit outside for a beautiful day!

santee lakes - high view

Padre Dam Municipal Water District decided to build Santee Lakes to help show the public the promise and plausibility of water recycling. They recycle and reduce waste to have a water stream with minimal processing costs, thus helping the locals increase their water supply. With this, tons of architects, engineers, government officials and urban planners worldwide visit Santee Lakes to see the good it has to offer.

So what are the activities awaiting in Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve? See them all here.

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve Park

Santee Lakes feature one of the best award winning parks in California. They strive to showcase their best facilities and amenities for all guests and campers. The daily use part of the park is open at 8 a.m. on the weekdays and 6 a.m. on weekends, and closing anywhere from 5 p.m.- 7 p.m. depending on the season. The weekday fee is $4 per vehicle and $6 on the weekend, and you will receive a $1 discount if you pay with cash.

entrance to santee lakes

The park is open every day with tons of activities for all ages, like bike rentals, fishing, boating, and camping. Kids can have a good time in one of their seven playgrounds, including the Sprayground and Boulder Island adventure course. A Sprayground wristband is available for $2 per child on the weekdays to $3 on the weekends. There is a Tot Lot for smaller children, and a special playground for children with disabilities between lakes 3 & 4.

Those who want to enjoy some quiet time can set up a picnic under one of the park’s cool lakeside gazebos all year round! They can host all kinds of parties, just ask! Parents and kids will surely create some great memories as they have fun with different activities around the park. Biking can also be fun and are available to rent from $12-$35/hr, depending what type of bike it is. Regular bikes can be rented for the day also, but surreys are for one hour at a time.

surrey ride

If you plan to regularly visit the park on different occasions on a yearly basis, you may opt to get the annual parking permit for $75 at the park office. They also offer special discounts for different seasons so you can enjoy the park throughout the year for a lot less. Save the money for something else AND enjoy the park!

Make sure you don’t bring pets to the park because they do not allow pets in the day use areas or the cabins. They do, however, allow pets on the campgrounds, so you can bring your pet/s (up to 2 dogs) on vacation. Your kids will appreciate that too if they are close to the family pet.

Santee Lakes Campground

Santee Lakes offers the perfect spot for the whole family, couples or singles to enjoy. Parents are encouraged to bring their kids for a week or weekend full of adventure. They have shower, restroom and laundry facilities, as well as a clubhouse for parties, 2 swimming pools and a jacuzzi.

Santee Lakes is proud to showcase their campground, which has about 300 campsites to choose from, all equipped with free WiFi access and cable TV. Registered campers get the benefit of fishing exclusively in lake 6 and 7, which are not open to day guests. The campsite is just 20 minutes away from the big attractions in San Diego. It is definitely a great spot to come back to if you spend the day out of the park on your vacation.

RV parked at santee lakes!

Camping at Santee Lakes helps promote the reduction of environmental impacts. All facilities in the area are run with the help of more than four acres of solar panels. These solar panels help produce almost 50% of the power the entire park and campground need everyday! They are situated above car ports, where you can park your RV, with card access control and dump stations for $120 per month for units 20 feet and under.

The campground is mostly for RVs, but there are a limited number of tent camper sites for one tent and six people. Campfires are permitted if they are contained and off the ground, but they are not allowed in the Mulberry Loop. Camping prices can be found HERE.

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve was awarded the National Plan-it Green Award for their efforts to help protect the environment. The award is presented to parks for using green energy instead of traditional energy that pollutes the environment.

santee lakes award

Fishing Fun at Santee Lakes!

There are seven lakes in the area regularly stocked with different fish, including catfish, bass, bluegill, and carp. Regular day fishing is allowed in lakes 1 to 5, while lakes 6 and 7 are only designated for registered campers. However, there are a limited number of stamps that unregistered campers can obtain, along with a fishing permit, to use lakes 6 & 7.

santee lakes fish

You may or may not need a fishing license from the district to fish at Santee Lakes, but you do need to get a day permit from the general store on the park grounds if you are 16 or older. Children 7-15 years old require a junior permit, while those under 7 years old can fish without one as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid permit. The fishing limit would be for one person in that case. Each pole that you use will be an added cost to your fishing trip.

Day use visitors to the park can fish during park hours, while campers can fish from sunrise to sunset, and even into the night with a night fishing permit. Lights must be used at all times on the water if you are fishing at night, and the quiet time at the campground must still be obeyed. You can catch 5 fish per day, per person, but bass must always be released into the same lake after you catch them. They prefer that you release catfish as well, but it’s not a rule that you have to. Trout and carp must never be released, and the park actually wants you to take the carp out.

caught fish

When you are fishing, you cannot use minnows, frogs, goldfish, other fish, chum and corn as bait. It’s best to use an artificial lure so as not to introduce anything new into the lakes. One adult day permit is $9, a senior permit is $6 (for ages 60 and older), a junior permit is also $6, and an extra pole is $4. Night fishing is $6 for adults and $3 for juniors, and there are also fishing events where you can win prizes at certain times of the year.

What About Boating At Santee Lakes?

Santee Lakes is imposing some important restrictions due to the presence of invasive Quagga Mussels in several lakes in California. These mussels vary in size from microscopic to fingernail length. Quagga Mussels are very active and attach themselves to any hard surface. These invasive mussels create significant negative impacts on the lakes’ water systems. Furthermore, it disrupts the natural food chain by releasing toxic chemicals that affect other aquatic species.

quagga infiltrating

Santee Lakes has had to temporarily impose strict rules in banning the use of personal watercraft, personal live bait and containers, fish finders, floating catch buckets, and other potential contaminants. All fishing equipment should only come from the Santee Lakes general store and will be carefully inspected by their staff.

So in order to fish (or you can fish from the shores) or have fun on a boat, you must rent one for now. Pedal boats with 4 seats cost $16/hr, canoes are $17/hr, and kayaks are $17/hr, and they all can be rented at half hour rates as well. If you are renting a cabin, there are shared and private pedal boats to use as part of your rental.

Renting Cabins!

Santee Lakes offers waterfront cabins and three floating cabins that guests can choose from. Waterfront cabins are equipped with a queen bed for two adults, a small mattress for one adult or two children, and a bunk bed that sleeps two. It’s meant to accomodate five guests, but six are allowed. The kitchen includes everything needed to run a kitchen, like a refrigerator, cooking utensils, plates, dish soap and sponge, a coffee pot, etc. It also has a bathroom, and a living room with a tv and dvd player. Outside the cabin, there is a propane grill, fire ring, a porch, 2 chairs, and shared pedal boats.

waterfront cabins available in santee lakes

The floating cabins have basically the same indoor amenities as the waterfront cabins, but only sleeps four, with a queen bed and a sleeper sofa. However, six guests are allowed here as well, and there is a shared fire ring, a porch with a table and 4 chairs, and a personal pedal boat. These cabins are actually ON the water like a house boat would be. In either cabin, you could also fish right from your porch and cook fresh fish for dinner on the grill!

floating cabins

There is also an ADA cabin with a ramp for easy wheelchair access that sleeps three, but will allow six guests like the other two types of cabins. It includes a full sized bed and a floor mattress, with mostly the same amenities as the other cabins. There is a ramped porch with 2 chairs and shared pedal boats.

You can bring your own things to the cabin, but with kitchen supplies, the cabins should have all the basics you will need. You can also bring your fishing gear, but it would be a good idea to remember the rules about what bait you can’t use and what fish you can keep. Quiet time starts at 9 p.m. and ends at 8 a.m. for the whole campground, and you can be escorted off the grounds for violating that rule. Also, they only allow one car per cabin, but you can pay for guest parking if you have more than one, depending on availability.

Need Snacks? Welcome To The General Store

store at santee lakes

There is a store inside the park, located at lake 5, where you can pick up food, drinks/hot drinks, fishing supplies/permits, rent boats/bikes, and pay for camping/cabins. Starting on Friday (until Sunday), you can sit at the Waterfront Grill (or sit on your own chair that you brought) and choose from burgers, hot dogs, spicy sausages, grilled cheeses, and drinks. Even if you just came for the day, it’s beautiful to eat some good food and look out onto the lake with the sun shining on the water!

santee lakes grill

Santee Wildlife

There are several types of wildlife that call Santee Lakes their home or part time home. The most diverse wildlife present in the area is the vast species of birds, with over 200 different species that live or simply pass by. There are also coyotes, ducks, herons, raccoons, and owls, just to name a few.

bird in tree

Local Santee Attraction

Santee Lakes has many attractions nearby to enjoy for the whole family, as part of a nice vacation. Just 20-30 minutes away from Santee Lakes will lead you to some of the best attractions in California. You can visit these attractions during your stay at Santee Lakes Recreation Reserve. Here are some of the local attractions in and near Santee, to name just a few:

  •  Balboa Park and Museums
  •  Cabrillo National Monument (beautiful high point views of San Diego Bay, the city itself, the ocean, and more!)
  •  Birch Aquarium at Scripps
  •  La Jolla Cove
  •  Coronado Island
  •  Legoland
  • Old Town State Historic Park
  • Seaport Village
  • Sea World
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Torrey Pines Beach/Natural Reserve
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park (north, in Escondido)
  • Mission Trails Regional Park

Volunteers Is What Makes Santee Lakes A Relaxing Experience

The success of Santee Lakes is mainly thanks to the hard work of their paid staff and volunteers. The volunteers make up 60% of the workforce of the whole park! They help to implement rules and regulations, and take care of the overall maintenance of the park. Of course, volunteers get many benefits like free parking, fun use of amenities as they assist guests, and experiencing the beauty of the lakes.

maintaining the santee park

If you want to spend some great time with your family and friends, away from the busy and stressful city, Santee Lakes is the best place for you. It will keep you away from trouble and bring peace to your inner soul.

People of all ages will definitely have fun during their stay. Even grandparents can do some fishing and boating activities. If kids are looking for more fun, you can bring them to local attractions that are just a few minutes away. The park is always looking to improve, so it will be interesting to see what they add to it!

PS. Looking for more things to do in Santee, CA?  Check out our Mission Trails and Cowles Mountain Hiking Guides!

North Fortuna & South Fortuna Trails – Conquering Mission Trails Challenges

Hiking is fun, especially with family and friends! Would you like to experience the beauty of natural landscapes that offer a breathtaking panoramic view of some very beautiful nature? However, to enjoy the hike and avoid getting lost along the way, it’s important to understand where you are going.

Have you ever hiked in Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the most popular hiking areas in San Diego? Let’s learn about one of these famous trails, which has two parts.


mission trails regional park


1. North/South Fortuna Loop Via Fortuna Saddle

This trail spans a distance of approximately 7.6 miles, with an elevation change of about 2,542 ft. You enter from the Tierrasanta entrance, go through to North Fortuna Mountain all the way to South Fortuna Mountain, then across the saddle, down and back to the beginning.

This trail is well known for hiking, trail running, walking and nature trips, among other activities. It is accessible all year round, apart from seasons when there is severe rainfall that would make the area impassable. However, the best time to hike is between January and April when the temperatures are cool and the park is greener, thus more beautiful.


South and North Fortuna Overview


Is it safe? Yes, this is a safe trail other than rattlesnakes which might surprise you during the hike. Keep an eye on the path and listen to that familiar rattling sound nearby. Be prepared with your cell phone, first aid kit, water, hiking boots and water in case of any emergencies. Take heed of the steep heights and dress appropriately to be on the safe side. If you drop any litter, make sure to collect it to keep the environment clean. If you love wildflowers and wildfruits, you can bring a few back with you. They are beautiful!

If you have a pet, you can trail along with them; however, you must ensure that you keep them on a leash. You should not take them if the dirt will be hot that day, or if there has been a lot of snake sightings around that time.

If you are fit, this 7.6 miles will take about 3 to 4 hours to finish, although the time might vary depending on a number of factors.


Let’s Start Out From The Tierrasanta Entrance

From this entrance, you will head over to the park over the bridge and follow the signs that have ‘North Fortuna’ posted on them. On your way, you will cross many trails, although you don’t have to stick to one trail. Trek ahead by following the signs until you get to the tallest mountain in the park.


fortuna from tierrasanta entrance


The North Fortuna Mountain Bottom

Now you are at the bottom of North Fortuna Mountain. To hike to the top, you will start climbing the summit after approximately half a mile. After about 2.3 miles, the trail will split right and left. Head right and after about 3 miles, you will reach the North Fortuna Summit. At this point, you can smile, rest a bit, play a few games, or find a few treasures as you enjoy the paronamic view of the South Fortuna Mountain and Cowles mountain off in the distance.

From North Fortuna Summit

From the North Fortuna Summit, head down to the Fortuna Saddle at about 3.3 miles and then head up South Fortuna Mountain. You will hit the South Fortuna Summit at approximately 3.96 miles, which is around 200 feet lower than the North Summit. Keep heading south and at about 4.33 miles, you will get a nice view of the gorge.


north fortuna summit


Heading Back Down

After having enough rest, head west back down to the park floor. Follow the trail and at about 5.15 miles, you will cross the little creek area, then start heading back to the start of the hike.

Trek To The Beginning Of The Trail

You are almost done! At approximately 5.45 miles, you will come to a road. Follow the road up and head to the right as you head back. You will meet another road at about 5.8 miles and at this point, take the right that is heading Northeast for a little less than a mile. From this point, take another trail on your left and this will take you back to the trail head. Relax and enjoy Mother Nature at this point. I hope you’ve had fun!


2. Fortuna Mountains Loop Via Grasslands Crossing

Hiking the Fortuna Mountains through Grasslands Crossing is 7.1 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,354 ft. The minimum elevation is 305 ft and the maximum is 1,292 ft. The trekking time is approximately 3-4 hours, though you are likely to experience some difficulty along the way due to the steep terrain, rocks and bridges which can break during the rainy season. In addition, you are likely to encounter wild animals such as rattlesnakes on this trail, so keep your eyes open. However, the trail is well marked, well maintained, and very easy to follow, even with your dog.


hikers on fortuna


To hike the Fortuna Mountains through the Grasslands Crossing, you start out on the North Perimeter Trail or the Spring Canyon trail. For an easy trail, let’s start out from the Spring Canyon trail and head back through the North Perimeter Trail.

From Spring Canyon Trail

Start out from this trail that is located at the north end of the East Fortuna staging area. At approximately 0.4 miles, this trail intersects with the North Perimeter Loop Trail and the Grasslands Loop. Although both trails will get you to your destination, let’s follow the Grasslands Loop Trail. At about 0.8 miles, this trail will run along a wooden fence and you will follow it due south along the fence.


spring canyon trail on a sunny day


Head for the Oak Canyon Trail

At about 1 mile, leave the grasslands for the Oak Canyon trail. This trail runs along a shaded creek for about .2 miles before getting into a little more exposure. At about 1.3 miles, you will notice that this creek takes a turn as the trail heads east and swells with a lot of water. Be careful on this stretch of the hike with your footwear, since the rocky trail can become loose in some areas.

Fortuna Saddle Trail

At about 1.6 miles, the Oak Canyon Trail crosses the Fortuna Trail. Head east to the Fortuna Saddle Trail and you will note that it will begin to get steep. After about .6 miles, you will gain an elevation of about 500 ft. Walk carefully at this point to avoid falling off. After about 2.2 miles, you will reach the Fortuna Saddle, then head to the 1,094 ft South Fortuna Summit, which is approximately 2.8 miles away.


fortuna saddle trail stairs


Once at the summit, sit, relax and enjoy the view before heading down the saddle to North Fortuna. After about 3.4 miles, you will get to the Fortuna Saddle. Walk ahead and at approximately 4 miles, you will get to the 1,291 ft North Fortuna Summit. Have you enjoyed the trail? Once you’ve had enough rest and enjoyed the view of the landscape, you can return back just the way you arrived through the Fortuna Saddle Trail.


North Fortuna & South Fortuna Trails Conclusion

Hiking is fun, great exercise, and a great group activity! Always be keen on the directions and the sign board when hiking to avoid getting lost along the way. In addition, when preparing to hike on these trails, always carry your cell phone, your emergency kit, trekking poles, snacks, extra shoes, clothing and water to be on the safe side.