Oakmont/Oak Ridge Loop (Redlands)

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San Bernardino Mountains, CA

The San Bernardino Mountains as seen from the Oak Ridge Trail

Oak Ridge Trail, Redlands, CA

View from the canyon rim on the Oak Ridge Trail

Oakmont/Oak Ridge Loop (Redlands)

  • Location: Southeast Redlands at Oakmont Park, Sutherland Drive and South Lane. From I-10, take the Yucaipa Blvd. exit. Head south (turn left if you’re coming from Palm Springs; right if you’re coming from San Bernardino) and make your first left onto Outer Highway 10 South. Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Alta Vista. Go 0.7 miles and turn left on South Lane. (Note that the sign for South Lane is easy to miss; keep in mind that this is the first street after Highview Lane and if you reach Sunset Drive, you’ve come too far.) Follow South Lane half a mile to the entrance of Oakmont Park, on the left. Park in the lot.
  • Agency: Redlands Conservancy
  • Distance:  3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • USGS topo map: Redlands
  • More information: Trip descriptions (slightly different routes) here and here; partial trail map here
  • Rating: 5
Oakmont Trail, Redlands, CA

0:00 – Start of the hike on Sutherland Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This double-loop hike explores the foothills of southeast Redlands, providing views of the San Bernardino Mountains and Live Oak Canyon. Each loop has its own distinctive character, giving this trip a good amount of scenic variety for a suburban hike.  If you’re starting early in the day, consider the larger loop first as the smaller loop has (somewhat) more shade, providing some cover from afternoon sun. Later in the day, consider doing the smaller loop first as described below; that way when you get to the major ascent of the hike the sun will likely be on its way down. That said, since the major ascent is only about 200 feet, the loops can easily be hiked in either order.

Oakmont Trail, Redlands, CA

0:07 – Bear left at the junction (times are approximate)

Start by following an unsigned path on the right side of the fence, following South Lane northeast for a short distance. The trail branches away from the road and climbs to an intersection (1/4 mile). Bear left and make a quick right at another junction. This trail merges with a fire road, unsigned but listed on Google Maps as the Oakmont Trail. Follow it downhill into a shallow canyon, sparsely populated with more oaks. At 0.6 miles, by a large oak tree, it makes a pronounced bend to the right and continues down canyon. A gradual descent brings you to an open plain where the trail makes a sharp bend to the right, heading toward Oakmont Park.

Oakmont Trail, Redlands, CA

0:08 – Bear right to stay on the Oakmont Trail

Just over a mile from the start, you reach the Oak Ridge Trail (signed as Trail #1), which branches off to the left. (You will return to this point and continue toward Oakmont Park and South Lane at the end of the hike.) The Oak Ridge Trail ascends on a series of switchbacks, taking in some good views, reaching the start of the second loop at 1.4 miles. This loop can be hiked in either direction but by bearing right and going counter-clockwise, you save the most interesting stretch for last.

Oakmont Trail, Redlands, CA

0:11 – Joining the fire road

The trail ascends some more and follows a ridge, reaching a residential street, Silverleaf Court, at 1.6 miles. Turn left and follow Silverleaf to its end and begin a descent on a service road. At 1.8 miles, look for the next leg of the Oak Ridge Trail/Trail #1 and make a hairpin left turn.

Big oak tree, Oakmont Trail, Redlands, CA

0:17 – Bear right at the big oak

The trail now cuts just below the top of the ridge, curving back and forth but staying almost entirely level, for an enjoyable 1.3 miles, tracing an outline that resembles a hand. You may hear some traffic noise and gunfire from a nearby shooting range but for the most part this stretch feels pleasantly secluded. Ignore a few fire breaks crossing the trail and continue back to complete the loop (3.1 miles.) Retrace your steps down to the previous junction, turn left and follow the trail back through the picnic area to Oakmont Park.

Oak Ridge Trail, Redlands, CA

0:30 – Turnoff for the Oak Ridge Trail

Although the route may sound confusing (and the unofficial trails and breaks cutting across don’t help) it’s overall pretty easy to follow. It’s hard to get really lost here as major streets are close by so if you end up getting separated from the main trails, you can still have an enjoyable time just wandering around.

Oak Ridge Loop, Redlands, CA

0:39 – Start of the second loop (bear right)

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Oak Ridge Trail, Redlands, CA

0:53 – Sharp left from the service road back onto the Oak Ridge Trail, returning toward the start of the loop

Lower Canyonback Trail

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Lower Canyonback Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

Ocean view from the Lower Canyonback Trail

Temescal Ridge, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

Temescal Ridge, as seen from the Lower Canyonback Trail

Lower Canyonback Trail

  • Location: Eastern Santa Monica Mountains. Google Maps lists it as the “Whoops Trailhead.” From I-405, take Sunset Blvd. west for 1.3 miles. Turn right on Kenter Avenue and follow it for 2.2 miles to its end and park where available. (Kenter makes a lot of sharp curves so drive carefully; a few other roads branch off and the signs aren’t always visible but it’s usually pretty clear how to stay on Kenter.)
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area/Westridge Canyonback Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recomended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Trip description here; description of both Lower and Upper segments here; Westridge-Canyonback Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6
Lower Canyonback Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

0:00 – Lower Canyonback Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Lower Canyonback Trail is more challenging and scenically interesting than its upper counterpart. Purists might be turned off by the fact that this route is almost entirely on fire roads and paved roads and that power lines follow it for much of the way, but the ocean and mountain views are excellent and the hike’s convenient location and dog-friendliness add to its popularity.

Lower Canyonback Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

0:12 – Merging with the fire road (times are approximate)

A few informal trails branch off and run parallel to the main roads, making several different routes possible. Begin by following the trail uphill, almost immediately coming to a split where a use trail heads up a ridge to the right and the paved road continues to the left, slightly downhill. The two routes rejoin at about 0.4 miles, where you’ll bear left and follow the fire road uphill. (Another trail, popular with mountain bikers, also branches off to the left at this point; it rejoins the main route later on. There’s also a steep break that heads straight up at this point, soon rejoining the fire road). Farther uphill, 0.7 miles from the start, a steep path climbs to a vista point where a wooden bench hangs from a large oak. From this ridge, you enjoy some of the best views of the hike.

Lower Canyonback Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

0:16 – Steep use trail to the oak with the swing

The ridge drops back down to rejoin the fire road (1.1 miles) as well as the single-track from earlier. You continue, enjoying good views on both sides, climbing to the highest point on the route (1.7 miles), marked by a large water tank. A short spur on the left leads to a knoll with some nice vistas; the road, now paved, continues, gradually descending through a plateau dotted with oaks, willows and spring flowers. A use trail leads to what someone has named Nipple Mountain, although the area is considered a sensitive habitat and is off limits.

Oak tree on the Lower Canyonback Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

0:22 – Oak tree with swing

As you descend toward the end of the trail, you may get glimpses of the Santa Susana and San Gabriel Mountains. A metal gate marks the trail’s end at an upscale residential community. It’s possible to access the Upper Canyonback Trail by walking about half a mile on streets; that route continues a mile and a half farther to Mulholland Drive, making a round trip of 8+ miles or a possible 4-mile shuttle with the necessary arrangements.

Lower Canyonback Trail, Santa Monica Mountains, CA

0:28 – Rejoining the fire road

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

End of the Lower Canyonback Trail

1:00 – End of the trail

Doc Larsen Loop

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Little Tujunga Canyon, Angeles National Forest, CA

View of Little Tujunga Canyon on the final ascent

View of the San Fernando Valley from the Doc Larsen Loop Trail, Lakeview Terrace, CA

Looking south from near the top of the BP&L Fire Road

Doc Larsen Loop

  • Location: Lakeview Terrace at the corner of Dominica Ave. and Jimenez St. From I-210, take the Wheatland Ave. exit. Follow it north (turn right if you’re coming from the south/east, left if from the north/west) a short distance to Foothill Blvd. Turn right and go 0.3 miles to Esko Ave. Turn left onto Esko and take the second left on to Jimenez St. Park where available near the corner of Jimenez and Dominica.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Sunland
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Everytrail guide here; Meet Up description here; Doc Larsen obituary here
  • Rating: 7
Start of the Doc Larsen Loop, Lakeview Terrace, CA

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Jimenez St. (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Louis “Doc” Larsen may sound like a bank robber from the Wild West but in fact he was an upstanding citizen: a popular veterinarian known for his work in the horse community around Lakewood Terrace and his trail advocacy. The Doc Larsen Trail was damaged in the Station Fire but is now accessible to hikers again, thanks to the efforts of volunteers. There are several ways to incorporate the 1.6-mile trail into a hike or trail ride, including the “P”-shaped loop described here. Although much of the hike is dominated by power lines and noise from nearby roads, it offers (at least on clear days) excellent views of the eastern San Fernando Valley, Little Tujunga Canyon, the Verdugo Mountains and the westernmost peaks of the San Gabriels. Add that to its convenience to the San Gabriel foothill and San Fernando Valley communities and you have a significant L.A. hiking destination.

BP&L Fire Road, Lakeview Terrace, CA

0:07 – Start of the fire road (times are approximate)

From the end of Jimenez St., walk uphill on Dominica, past Courtship Ranch (private property; access is granted by the grace of the owners). At a quarter mile, turn left on a fire road and pass a metal gate into Angeles National Forest land. Listed on Google Maps as the BP&L (Burbank Power & Light) Road, the fire road ascends steadily. Widening views make the shadeless climb more tolerable, as does an attractive grove of oaks about a mile from the start; a nice spot to take a breather.

Oak grove, Doc Larsen Loop, Lakeview Terrace, CA

0:28 – Oak grove on the BP&L Fire Road

More climbing brings you to a saddle with views down into Little Tujunga Canyon (1.8 miles). This is the start of the loop, which can be done in either direction. If you are hiking earlier in the day, consider going clockwise, meaning that you will be ascending the Doc Larsen Trail and will likely have more shade; later in the day, counter-clockwise as described here is better; that way you will be descending the Larsen trail, avoiding having to make the ascent with the sun at your back.

Fire road in the Angeles National Forest

0:52 – Start of the loop (Forest road 2N94)

Head right on road signed 2N94 (also signed as Oliver Canyon, Doty Road and BP&L Road on various maps) which follows a ridge, providing good views on both sides as it climbs and descends a series of bumps. Stay left at a junction (3 miles) and make one more climb before descending to a plateau where the Doc Larsen Trail begins (3.6 miles).

Overgrown in some spots but overall easy to follow, the Doc Larsen Trail follows a tributary of Little Tujunga Canyon. After about half a mile, you reach the bathtub, a horse trough sitting in the shade. Another trail heads toward Fascination Spring. Continue following the Doc Larsen Trail as it winds its way to the bottom of the canyon (watch out for pockets of poison oak). You enter an attractive oak woodland more reminiscent of the Santa Monica Mountains or Ojai foothills than the Angeles Forest. During the lower stretch of the Doc Larsen Trail, it crosses the canyon wash several times, occasionally following it; while it might look confusing, whether you head down canyon on the trail itself or the stream bed, your route should be pretty clear.

Doc Larsen Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:36 – Start of the Doc Larsen Trail

At 5.2 miles, the Doc Larsen Trail ends at another fire road. Turn left and begin the last leg of the loop. A few oaks provide shade on the lower portion of the trail before it makes its exposed ascent back to the saddle. Although you are likely to hear noise from Little Tujunga Canyon Road and the nearby shooting range, the mountain views make the effort of ascent more enjoyable.

Horse trough, Doc Larsen Trail, Lakeview Terrace, CA

1:48- Horse trough

At 6.5 miles, you return to the saddle. From here, retrace your steps almost entirely downhill back to Courtship Ranch and your car.

Doc Larsen Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:32 – Woodlands on the lower portion of the Doc Larsen Trail

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Fire road, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:39 – End of the Doc Larsen Trail; final ascent to complete the loop

San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary (Redlands)

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San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, CA

Looking south from the vista point

San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary (Redlands)

  • Location: Redlands. From the west, take I-10 to California Ave. Turn right and follow California Ave for 1.3 miles to Barton Road (note that at Redlands Blvd, the first main intersection south of the freeway, you’ll need to make a quick right and then a quick left to stay on California Avenue.) Turn left on Barton and follow it 0.4 miles to San Timoteo Canyon Road. Turn right and follow San Timoteo Canyon Road for a total of 3.5 miles, noting that the road makes a hard left at 0.4 miles from Barton. Turn left on Alessandro Road and follow it 0.4 miles to the trail head which is a dirt lot by a metal gate on the left side of the street, shortly before Sunset Hills Lane. From the east, take I-10 to Live Oak Canyon Road. Turn left and follow Live Oak Canyon Road 4.5 miles to San Timoteo Canyon Road. Turn right and go 1.2 miles to Alessandro. Turn right and follow Allesandro 0.4 miles to the trail head.
  • Agency: Redlands Conservancy
  • Distance:  3.8 miles
  • Elevation gain:  200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • USGS topo map: Redlands
  • More information: Trip description here
  • Rating: 4
San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary trail head, Redlands, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Alessandro Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This 200-acre preserve, made possible by the work of the Redlands Conservancy, is a hit with local hikers, bikers and equestrians. The main route is the Carriage Trail, whose construction in the 19th century speaks to the area’s historical significance as a transportation corridor linking Banning to the eastern end of the San Bernardino Valley. Another trail runs parallel to the Carriage Trail and several short connectors make for multiple possible routes. The 3.8-mile balloon-shaped loop here samples some of the park’s best scenery.

San Timoteo Creek

0:12 – San Timoteo Creek, just off the Carriage Trail half a mile from the start (times are approximate)

From Alessandro Road, step through the gate and begin heading northwest on a fire road. After a pleasant if somewhat forgettable 0.4 miles, the walls of the canyon pinch in and the vegetation (mainly willows with a few wild palms) becomes thicker. A few use trails lead down to seasonal San Timoteo Creek. Though you’re close to civilization, the trees form a nice buffer, creating a sense of isolation.

Trail intersection, San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary

0:20 – Start of the loop

At 0.8 miles, you reach a Y-junction; the start of the loop. To stay on the Carriage Trail, bear right and ascend gradually; for the next half mile the two trails run fairly close to each other. At 1.3 miles, stay right at another junction with a spur trail. Here the Carriage Trail begins the only significant ascent of the trip, winding through a grove of eucalyptus trees to another junction. Bear right again and follow a short spur higher up to an overlook where you can enjoy a panoramic view of San Timoteo Canyon which will likely include at least one freight train passing below. An unmaintained, unofficial trail leads higher but this is the recommended turnaround point.

San Timoteo Canyon, Redlands, CA

0:45 – Looking southeast from the vista point

From here you can retrace your steps on the Carriage Trail but if you want to make the hike into a loop, at the last junction, turn right and continue west. Soon you reach a connector (2 1/4 miles from the start). Take a hard left onto the spur and descend to the other main east-west trail. (West of this point, without trees to block the noise of traffic on San Timoteo Canyon Road, the hiking isn’t as pleasant.) Head left and hike back toward the start of the loop, passing through an attractive field of mustard flowers before rejoining the Carriage Trail at 3 miles. Retrace your steps back to Alessandro Road.

Trail in the San Timoteo Nature Preserve

0:55 – Connector trail leading downhill (turn left)

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary, Redlands, CA

1:11 – Heading back toward the Carriage Trail

La Tour (Victoria Beach, Laguna)

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La Tour, Victoria Beach, Laguna, CA

La Tour

Tidepools at Victoria Beach, Orange County, CA

Tide pools adjacent to La Tour

La Tour (Victoria Beach, Laguna)

  • Location: Victoria Beach, Laguna. Access to Victoria Beach is via a staircase located between 2703 and 2713 Victoria Drive. From downtown Laguna Beach, take Pacific Coast Highway south for 1.8 miles and bear right on Victoria Drive. From the south, take P.C.H. north (3.1 miles past Crown Valley Parkway and 5.6 miles from downtown Dana Point) to Nyes Place. Bear right and take an immediate left on Victoria Drive, which crosses under P.C.H. Note that parking in this neighborhood is limited and restricted. Pay close attention to signs, to avoid being ticketed or towed. Allow extra time to look for parking and to walk to the staircase from your car.
  • Agency: City of Laguna Beach
  • Distance: 0.3 miles (allow extra time for the walk from your car)
  • Elevation gain: 50 feet
  • Suggested time: 15 minutes (allow extra time for the walk from your car)
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: All year, low tide recommended (see chart)
  • USGS topo map: Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: Map My Hike report here; Victoria Beach Yelp page here; article about the tower here
  • Rating: 3
Stairs leading to Victoria Beach, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Stairs leading to Victoria Beach (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Following the longest hike ever posted on this site, we now present the shortest. Some might find calling this a hike to be a little generous but those interested in offbeat landmarks and Orange County history won’t want to miss La Tour (French for “the tower”), a 60-foot tower near Victoria Beach in Laguna. The Medieval-inspired tower was built in 1926, allowing homeowner William Brown, a state senator, access to the beach below. Sadly, the tower is closed, but it still provides a glimpse of local history and a nice, quiet place to watch the waves.

Victoria Beach, Laguna, CA

0:03 – North end of Victoria Beach; climb the rocks to get to La Tour

Take the staircase between 2703 and 2713 Victoria Drive down to the ocean, which deposits you on the north end of the beach. From here, turn right and cross over the rocks, passing by a concrete basin that has also served as a swimming pool on the past. La Tour comes into sight almost immediately. The rock scrambling is fairly easy compared to Dana Point and Corona Del Mar, but caution should still be exercised.

At the base of La Tour, the structure and the bluffs behind it form a sort of cave; a nice, shaded spot to enjoy watching the waves. You can extend the hike by exploring the tidepools beyond the tower to the north or south along Victoria Beach before returning up the stairs to your car.

View from La Tour, Victoria Beach, Laguna, CA

0:07 – View from beneath La Tour

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.


Mt. Wilson Toll Road

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View of Mt. Baldy from the Mt. Wilson Toll Road

View of Mt. Baldy from near the Harvard Saddle (about a mile below Mt. Wilson)

Mt. Lowe and San Gabriel Peak from the Mt. Wilson Toll Road

Mt. Lowe and San Gabriel Peak from the saddle, a little more than half way up the toll road

Mt. Wilson Toll Road

  • Location: The easiest access point is the corner of Pinecrest Drive and Bowring Drive in Altadena. No parking is allowed on weekends in the immediate vicinity of the access gate at 2260 Pinecrest Drive and it is limited to 2 hours during the weekdays, which is not nearly enough time to complete an 18-mile hike. From the west, take I-210 to Altadena Drive. Turn left and head north on Altadena Drive for 2.7 miles and turn right on Crescent Drive. Go 0.1 miles and make a slight left on to Pinecrest/Crescent Drive, then a quick right onto Bowring. Park where available near the corner of Bowring and Pinecrest, paying attention to posted restrictions. From points east, take I-210 to Sierra Madre Blvd. Merge onto Maple, go 0.3 miles and turn right onto Altadena Drive and follow the directions above.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District; Eaton Canyon Natural Area
  • Distance: 18.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4,500 feet
  • Suggested time: 9.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: NC-17 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  November – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat;  sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; All Trails page here; Yelp page here; MTB page here; Mt. Wilson Observatory page here; Wikipedia article about the history of the toll road here
  • Rating: 9
Start of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road Hike, Altadena, CA

0:00 – Start of the hike, Pinecrest and Bowring, Altadena (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Mt. Wilson Toll Road was built to transport gear to the observatory on the summit. It operated from 1891 to 1936, by which time it was rendered obsolete by the newly opened Angeles Crest Highway. The roadbed still exists, climbing nine miles from Altadena to Mt. Wilson. Just under a third of the distance is Henninger Flats, a popular destination for camping and as a moderately strenuous day hike. Hikers who want more of a challenge however can set aside a whole day and climb the road in its entirety. Compared to the routes from Sierra Madre and Chantry Flats, the fire road might seem a little monotonous at times, but it does take in excellent views of the L.A. basin (pending good visibility) and of the San Gabriel front country. Additionally, the ease of navigation and lack of steep stretches or difficult terrain make it a good training hike. If you visit on a weekend between April and November, you can have lunch at the Cosmic Cafe atop Mt. Wilson, where there are also full-service restrooms and a water bottle filling station. Additionally, water is USUALLY available at Henninger Flats. This enables hikers to not have to carry as much water and food as they might on other hikes of this level, making things a little easier.

Still, it’s 18 miles.

Henninger Flats, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:05 – Henninger Flats (times are approximate)

The easiest starting point is from the corner of Bowring and Pinecrest. Follow Pinecrest to a gate on the left side of the road which allows access to the upper end of the Eaton Canyon Natural Area. (Note that the gate closes daily at sunset; if you arrive after it is locked, you’ll need to hike down to the nature center entrance and back up Altadena Drive and Pinecrest, adding about two miles.) Descend to a bridge crossing Eaton Canyon and then follow it up 2.7 steadily ascending miles to Henninger Flats. The trail is exposed, but if you get off to an early start, the ridges will likely block out much of the sun. For more details on the trip to Henninger Flats, click here.
Mt. Wilson Toll Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:41 – Junction with the Idlehour Trail

Above Henninger, you pass a turnoff for a heliport and the trail bends east, heading into an attractive oak woodland. At 4 miles, you reach an unsigned junction with the Idlehour Trail. The road continues through the woods before emerging at a saddle, where a bench beneath an oak provides good views to the southeast. This is the approximate halfway point.

View from a bench on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:00 – View from the bench; approximate half way point

The trail bends north to cross the saddle with views of San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Lowe to the northwest. On the north side of the saddle, you get a distinct view of the antennas atop Wilson. This may be an encouraging sight, but your work is far from over. After crossing a shaded, north-facing slope, you begin a morale-testing stretch as the trail ascends steadily on an exposed south-facing slope. The good news is that you have more panoramic views of the L.A. basin.

Black oaks on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

3:05 – Black oaks near the junction with the Mt. Wilson Trail

The road then dips back into a wooded area, reaching a junction with the trail from Sierra Madre (7.3 miles). An attractive grove of black oaks makes for a nice resting spot here. When ready, continue north to a saddle between Mt. Wilson and Mt. Harvard. If you want to cut off about half a mile, take the single-track branching off to the right; otherwise continue on the toll road, making one final harpin turn before reaching the upper end, amidst an antenna farm. Bear right into Mt. Wilson Road into Skyline Park where you can enjoy some great views from the large parking lot and perhaps grab a bite if the Cosmic Cafe is open.

Saddle between Mt. Harvard and Mt. Wilson, Angeles National Forest

3:30 – Saddle between Mt. Harvard and Mt. Wilson

After enjoying the view and resting, retrace your steps back to Altadena. If you have arranged for a car shuttle, you can make this a one-way trip; you can also plan to have a car waiting for you at the Sierra Madre or Chantry Flats trail heads if you want to take a different route down.

Skyline Park, Mt. Wilson, CA

3:55 – Entering Skyline Park, top of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View from the Cosmic Cafe, Mt. Wilson, CA

4:00 – You made it! View from the Cosmic Cafe

Mesa Loop Trail (Caspers Wilderness Park)

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Saddleback Mountain, Orange County, CA

Old Saddleback as seen from the Mesa Loop Trail

Mesa Loop Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

Looking west toward the main area of Caspers from the Mesa Loop Trail

Mesa Loop Trail (Caspers Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Ortega Highway (route 74) east for 7 1/2 miles.  The park is on your left.  Admission is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays. Once you are past the kiosk, take the first right into the Ortega Flats Campground and park in a small designated day use area on the left side of the gravel road.
  • Agency: Caspers Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “Canada Gobernadora”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 6
Trail head at Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see full sized version)

The Mesa Loop Trail holds the distinction of being the lone publicly accessible trail on the east side of the Ortega Highway in Caspers Wilderness Park. Its only downfall is traffic noise due to its proximity to the highway, but it is still a worthwhile destination; one of the better hikes of its length in the Orange County regional park system. Despite its name, the trail is not actually a loop, but can be combined to make one with the San Juan Creek Trail, as described here.

San Juan Creek Trail Head

0:02 – Start of the San Juan Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the day use area in the Ortega Flats Campground, head north along the gravel road. Near site 8, a road leaves the campground and joins the south end of the San Juan Creek Trail. Follow this fire road north for 0.3 miles along the highway to a junction where the Mesa Loop Trail begins, crossing under the road via a tunnel.

Tunnel under Highway 74, Orange County, CA

0:10 – Crossing under the road to the Mesa Loop Trail

On the opposite side of Highway 74, the trail crosses an abandoned service road and curves to the north, entering a pleasant, shallow canyon lined with sycamore trees. A quarter mile of level walking brings you to the only significant climb of the route. You ascend to an open mesa where you continue north, taking in excellent views of Old Saddleback straight ahead and of the park’s characteristic red and pink geological terraces on the left.

Mesa Loop Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

0:18 – View from the Mesa Loop Trail after the ascent

At about 1.1 miles, you briefly enter shade, where a large oak tree with rocks underneath makes for a good rest spot. Continuing, the trail eventually descends into Lucas Canyon and then reaches another tunnel where it crosses back under the highway to reconnect with the San Juan Creek Trail (2 miles from the start).

Shade tree, Mesa Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park

0:37 – Shade tree

Turn left and follow the San Juan Creek Trail south. Since you’re right next to the highway, noise is unavoidable, but this 1.2 mile stretch has its enjoyable spots, notably a couple of stands of tall oaks and more up-close views of the geology across the San Juan Creek floodplain. At 3.2 miles, you complete the loop, returning to the first junction with the Mesa Loop Trail. Retrace your steps back to the campground.

Tunnel on the Mesa Trail

0:50 – Crossing back under the road

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

San Juan Creek Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

1:00 – Woodlands on the San Juan Creek Trail