The top of South Fortuna Mountain (1094’) has sweeping views of all of the major peaks found in San Diego city’s largest regional park. It was used for physical fitness training for US Marines when Camp Elliott was active, and it is still a great place for a workout. Although not as tall as North Fortuna (1291’), it has one of the best views and is the most challenging when approached from the south ridge.
From the trailhead, follow the wide path to the northwest. Less than 0.5 mile is a trail to the right or east heading to the visitor center. Straight ahead is the San Diego River crossing. Flowing water here fluctuates seasonally. To avoid getting wet if the flow is high, take a tree-covered path to the left near the junction with the Visitor Center Loop Trail. Walk across a cement piling to a concrete slab path reconnecting on the opposite side of the river. The riparian area has a variety of plants associated with this habitat. Watch out for western poison-oak near the trail.
Begin looking for junctions and take all right turns. At about 1 mile, go right to head downward toward Suycott Wash, and then take another right immediately at 1.05 miles that is signed “Suycott Wash/South Fortuna Mountain Trail.” Follow the trail and signs to yet another junction at the Suycott Wash Trail. Go right to begin the South Fortuna trail that will lead across a small bridge through an oak woodland with old growth oaks.
Before you go, check to ensure the trail is open. Visit the Mission Trails Regional Park website to learn more.
While walking through the oaks, look for galls. Galls are small balls you see growing on the stems of oaks. There is a great diversity in the type of galls, even a variety called an “apple gall” for reasons that become immediately apparent once you see it! Tiny wasps (family Cynipidae) make galls by ovipositing their eggs into the tree with an organ called an ovipositor that is designed to direct the egg where it needs to be deposited. The tree reacts to the intrusion by producing extra material that surrounds this site, which becomes the gall. If you were to look inside a gall, you might see the wasp larvae that have hatched, larvae from parasites of the wasps that have consumed the larvae of the gallmaker, or nothing provided the larvae of either the wasp or parasitoid have successfully exited the gall.
The trail will turn to the left to approach the south ridge of South Fortuna. As elevation increases the surrounding habitat changes from oak woodland to grassland to coastal sage scrub as the steep wood staircase is climbed close to 560 vertical feet in little over 0.5 mile to reach the top. Enjoy the view at the top of the staircase at the marked “viewpoint” at 1000 feet above Mission Gorge. To the southwest are three tall peaks within Mission Trails Regional Park, beginning with the closest that include Kwaay Paay Peak (1194’), Pyles Peak (1379’), and lastly, Cowles Mountain (1591’), which is easily recognized by the antennas. North Fortuna is in the opposite direction. After taking in the view, follow the trail to the real summit.
From the summit, hikers can back track to the start or continue following the trail to the saddle for about 0.5 mile. From the saddle, take the steep trail down that leads back to Suycott Wash. At the junction with the wash, turn left and hike past the picnic area to complete the loop. Follow the trail back to the Jackson Drive Trailhead.
From CA-52 go east on Mast Boulevard for 0.2 mile. Turn right on West Hills Parkway. Go 0.7 mile. Turn right on Mission Gorge Road. Go 2.7 miles. Turn right on Jackson Drive and into the Mission Trails Regional Park parking lot. From I-8 go north on Mission Gorge Road for 4 miles. Turn left on Jackson Drive and into the Mission Trails Regional Park parking lot. Trailhead GPS: N32.81787, W117.06012
Looking for more great hikes? Check out our Canyoneers page or purchase the book, Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.
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