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South Fortuna Mountain

A shady spot in Suycott Wash
A shady spot in Suycott Wash

Mission Trails Regional Park’s 1291-foot-high South Fortuna Mountain is one of several summits of similar stature stretching from Cowles Mountain in the south to North Fortuna Mountain in the north. It’s easy to understand why this linear range of rounded peaks is called “Long Mountain” on century-old maps.

No route to South Fortuna’s summit is exactly easy. All involve severely steep grades, and the particular route described here features an incline so steep that for one long stretch the trail becomes basically a steep staircase of wood planks, anchored into the mountainside with steel bars. You’ll climb a total of 1400 vertical feet and descend the same.

For this route, park at the San Diego River Crossing Trailhead on Mission Gorge Road, at the foot of Jackson Drive. This is approximately 3.5 miles east of Interstate 8 and 5.5 miles west of Santee’s city center.

From the trailhead follow the wide gravel road north into Mission Gorge, where you cross the San Diego River. The river volume has fluctuated from as little as about one cubic foot per second in a dry summer to a winter record high (in 1916) of about 70,000 cubic feet per second. This time of year, it’s safe to say you won’t have a problem.

A heart-pounding ascent now begins as you abruptly gain more than 300 feet on the steep gravel road. You’re following, more or less, the proposed route for a Jackson Drive extension that was intended to connect with Highway 52 in the north. That will likely never happen.

At the top of the grade, turn right on the first trail intersecting from the right. You plunge downward into a oak-lined ravine bottom called Suycott Wash and meet the paralleling Suycott Wash Trail at 1.0 mile into the hike.

Make a right turn and follow the Suycott Wash Trail down through shade-giving oaks for a while. These oaks have recovered nicely from the ravages of the 2003 Cedar Fire, which thoroughly incinerated most of Mission Trail Regional Park’s acreage north of Mission Gorge Road.

Soon, the trail starts rising on the slope to the left, away from the oaks and onto sunny, south-facing slopes. You keep gaining elevation and curving left, ultimately reaching the south ridge of South Fortuna Mountain. Parts of Mission Gorge come into view on the right, far below. The ridge ahead just gets steeper, and so does the trail, which manages to climb this bouldery section by means of steep steps, rather than by moderate-incline zigzags.

Eventually, the going gets easier and you walk the remaining distance to the high point, 1094-foot South Fortuna Mountain — 2.2 miles from the start.

When it’s time to go, consider your choices. Aside from the easiest way of retracing your steps, you could fashion a number of possible loops to the north, all involving segments of steep trail — perhaps traveling as far as North Fortuna Mountain and the northernmost trails of the park alongside Highway 52.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

South Fortuna trail map

South Fortuna Mountain

Hike the steepest trail in Mission Trails Regional Park.

Distance from downtown San Diego: 13 miles

Hiking length: 4.4 miles round trip • Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

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A shady spot in Suycott Wash
A shady spot in Suycott Wash

Mission Trails Regional Park’s 1291-foot-high South Fortuna Mountain is one of several summits of similar stature stretching from Cowles Mountain in the south to North Fortuna Mountain in the north. It’s easy to understand why this linear range of rounded peaks is called “Long Mountain” on century-old maps.

No route to South Fortuna’s summit is exactly easy. All involve severely steep grades, and the particular route described here features an incline so steep that for one long stretch the trail becomes basically a steep staircase of wood planks, anchored into the mountainside with steel bars. You’ll climb a total of 1400 vertical feet and descend the same.

For this route, park at the San Diego River Crossing Trailhead on Mission Gorge Road, at the foot of Jackson Drive. This is approximately 3.5 miles east of Interstate 8 and 5.5 miles west of Santee’s city center.

From the trailhead follow the wide gravel road north into Mission Gorge, where you cross the San Diego River. The river volume has fluctuated from as little as about one cubic foot per second in a dry summer to a winter record high (in 1916) of about 70,000 cubic feet per second. This time of year, it’s safe to say you won’t have a problem.

A heart-pounding ascent now begins as you abruptly gain more than 300 feet on the steep gravel road. You’re following, more or less, the proposed route for a Jackson Drive extension that was intended to connect with Highway 52 in the north. That will likely never happen.

At the top of the grade, turn right on the first trail intersecting from the right. You plunge downward into a oak-lined ravine bottom called Suycott Wash and meet the paralleling Suycott Wash Trail at 1.0 mile into the hike.

Make a right turn and follow the Suycott Wash Trail down through shade-giving oaks for a while. These oaks have recovered nicely from the ravages of the 2003 Cedar Fire, which thoroughly incinerated most of Mission Trail Regional Park’s acreage north of Mission Gorge Road.

Soon, the trail starts rising on the slope to the left, away from the oaks and onto sunny, south-facing slopes. You keep gaining elevation and curving left, ultimately reaching the south ridge of South Fortuna Mountain. Parts of Mission Gorge come into view on the right, far below. The ridge ahead just gets steeper, and so does the trail, which manages to climb this bouldery section by means of steep steps, rather than by moderate-incline zigzags.

Eventually, the going gets easier and you walk the remaining distance to the high point, 1094-foot South Fortuna Mountain — 2.2 miles from the start.

When it’s time to go, consider your choices. Aside from the easiest way of retracing your steps, you could fashion a number of possible loops to the north, all involving segments of steep trail — perhaps traveling as far as North Fortuna Mountain and the northernmost trails of the park alongside Highway 52.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

South Fortuna trail map

South Fortuna Mountain

Hike the steepest trail in Mission Trails Regional Park.

Distance from downtown San Diego: 13 miles

Hiking length: 4.4 miles round trip • Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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