Kwaay Paay is part of the 5 Peak Challenge at Mission Trails Regional Park. Hiking Kwaay Paay is a short but steep challenge. It’s only 2.4 miles round trip but the stairs at the end will have the average hiker working up a sweat. The views at the top are a great reward and worth the climb.
This post will go over logistical details and what to expect on the trail from my personal experience hiking Kwaay Paay too many times to count.
Table of Contents
Here are the deets
- Trailhead: Google Maps Trailhead
- Distance: 2.4 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dog Friendly: Yes
- Fees: none
- Parking: in the lot at the park’s entrance near Kumeyaay Lake Campground or side of the road
- All Trails Link
Mission Trails Regional Park is very popular for hikers, bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. It’s close to downtown San Diego, making it an easy drive and doable on a Saturday morning. There are many hiking trails to choose from. Personally Kwaay Paay is one of my favorite hiking trails at Mission Trails because it’s less crowded than others. It’s also one of my favorite sunset hiking trails in San Diego.
What to Expect Hiking Kwaay Paay
After you park your car near Kumeyaay Lake Campground, you’ll start walking along Father Junipero Serra Trail. This is a paved road that’s shared with bikers and cars. Kwaay Paay trailhead is about ¼ mile or less from the entrance of the park. After passing the trailhead you’ll start the ascent up to Kwaay Paay summit.
From the get go, the Kwaay Paay hiking trail splits into two. You can take either route, they eventually merge at the ridgeline and turn into one trail.
The hiking trail is well marked and easy to navigate. It’s mostly packed dirt with a set of wooden stairs at the end leading to the summit. After you reach the peak, you’ll hike down the same way you came. This is an out and back trail. On the way down be sure to follow the signs to your starting point.
On the weekends, Mission Trails Regional Park tends to get busy. While most people come to hike the more popular Cowles Mountain, I tend to find some solitude hiking Kwaay Paay.
Hiking Kwaay Paay from Old Mission Dam
There is an alternate route to hiking Kwaay Paay that starts at Old Mission Dam. There’s a paved parking lot here. Keep in mind that the gates to Mission Trails Regional Park are open from sunrise to sunset. So if you’re planning to do a sunset hike, do not park here. Your car will be locked inside after sunset. From the dam to the summit is 1.1 miles one way. This is also an out and back trail. This winter season the dam is overflowing with water due to all the rain San Diego has gotten in 2023.
Kwaay Paay Summit
Kwaay Paay summit is 1,194 ft above sea level. Given its proximity to downtown, on a clear day you’ll be able to see the cityscape from the peak. “Kwaay Paay” is the Kumeyaay word for Chief. Kwaay Paay is one of 5 peaks in Mission Trails. The other 4 peaks are: Cowles, Pyles, South Fortuna, and North Fortuna.
Best Time To Hike Kwaay Paay
Mission Trails Regional Park is open year round. You can hike Kwaay Paay anytime of the year. It’s most beautiful during the winter/ spring when the surrounding hills are green after the rain. Keep in mind that it can get really hot in this area during the summer so plan accordingly.
Personally, I love hiking Kwaay Paay during sunset. It’s a short hike making it the perfect distance to accomplish after work. The colors of the sky from the summit have yet to disappoint.
Nearby Hiking Trails
Mission Trails Regional Park is filled with tons of hikes. Kwaay Paay hiking trail is just one of many. To start there’s the 5 peak challenge which you can break into 5 separate hikes or doing a mix of them at once. In addition to that, here are some other hiking trails in the area:
- Visitor’s Center Loop
- Oak Canyon Trail
- Father Junipero Serra Trail
- Grasslands Loop Trail
Hiking Gear Used
- Osprey DayLite Pack– Retails for $65 but Amazon occasionally has it on sale for $55! This is my go to hiking pack. It fits my 3L bladder, all my layers on a cooler day, and my trail snacks. There’s 2 side pockets and hip straps to adjust the weight distribution of your pack. It’s the perfect pack for day hikes. Check the price on Amazon
- Petzl Rechargeable headlamp– Whenever I’m doing a sunset hike I make sure to pack a headlamp. Petzl is one of the top brands when it comes to headlamps, as well as Black Diamond. Really any headlamp will do for a shorter hike like this. If you’re planning on doing multiple sunset hikes or camping, investing in quality gear is a must. Rechargeable headlamps are typically $50+ where as non-rechargeable headlamps are $20+. Check the price on Amazon
- Nalgene Water Bottle– For a short hike like this I usually just pack a light reusable water bottle instead of my hydration bladder. I don’t like carrying a Hydroflask or something like that because they’re heavy and uncomfortable in my pack. It’s overkill for a 2.5 mile hike. Nalgene water bottles are perfect because they’re light and carry 32oz +. You can find Nalgene water bottles on Amazon or REI. A quality bottle will also hold hot water! It’s great when I’m camping and want coffee or tea. Check the price on Amazon
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