Alternate route to top of Cowles Mountain
Instead of hiking Cowles Mountain the same way everyone else does it, by parking at Navajo Rd and Golfcrest Drive, try another route. The easiest alternate route is to drive south down Mesa Rd off of Mission Gorge, and go until you can't go anymore. This puts you a little north of the Mesa Road Trailhead, and you can hike to the top of Cowles Mountain from the backside. From where you parked, walk south on the service road until you see a marked sign saying to Cowles Mtn. If you follow the signs it is about a 2.75 mile hike one way. However, after about a mile or so you will hit another service road, wide enough for a truck. If you take that it is a little steeper but it cuts it down to about 2 miles.
Instead of parking at the Mesa Rd trailhead, you can also park at the north end of Lake Murray Blve and walk north until you get to the Mesa Road Trailhead, or you can park at the Big Rock Park Trailhead, which is about a quarter mile before the end of Mesa Rd.