Bouquet Canyon to Sierra Pelona via Pacific Crest Trail

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View from the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

Looking north from the Pacific Crest Trail across Bouquet Canyon

Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona

Bouquet Canyon to Sierra Pelona via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Liebre Mountains north of Los Angeles, east of I-5 and west of Highway 14. From the north, take Highway 14 to Avenue N. Turn right and head west for 4.6 miles. Turn left on Godde Hill Road and follow it 3.1 miles to its end at Elizabeth Lake Road. Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Bouquet Canyon Road. Turn left and go 4.3 miles to a dirt turnout on the left side of the road where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses. From the south, take Highway 14 to Sand Canyon Road. Turn left and head northwest for 2 miles to Sierra Highway. Turn right and go 0.4 miles to Vasquez Canyon Road. Turn left and follow Vasquez Canyon 3.6 miles to its ending at Bouquet Canyon Road. Turn right and follow Bouquet Canyon Road for a total of 13.7 miles, past the reservoir and the junction with Spunky Canyon Road, to a dirt turnout on the right side of the road where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses. Though “Trails of the Angeles” indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required to park here, there is no notice to that effect at the parking area; recent policy changes that allow free parking at unimproved National Forest areas such as this one would seem to indicate that the pass is not required. However if you want to buy a pass just to be sure, or for use at other trail heads that require it, click here.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Santa Clarita and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance)
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter; also known for high winds
  • USGS topo map: Sleepy Valley
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Video about the hike here; Pacific Crest Trail association home page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head on Bouquet Canyon Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

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

This enjoyable section of the Pacific Crest Trail climbs the south slope of Bouquet Canyon to the long ridge of Sierra Pelona, offering panoramic views along the way. The nearly three mile ascent makes a good workout and can be done in an afternoon, although hikers wanting more of a challenge can either continue along the P.C.T. or follow the Martindale Ridge Fire Road to Mt. McDill.

From the turnout, follow a short spur leading to the Pacific Crest Trail. The P.C.T. ascends steadily for the first 0.9 miles, passing a tall oak and climbing the side of the ridge. There’s not much in the way of shade trees, but if you get off to an early start, the sharply rising ridge will block out most of the sun.

Steep ascent on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:25 – Hard left at the intersection (times are approximate)

Just under a mile from the start, you reach a junction. Take a hard left and continue following the Pacific Crest Trail as it makes a short but noticeably steep ascent to a bench. The views include Martindale Canyon and distant Bouquet Reservoir to the west (right) and the Antelope Valley to the east. Far below to the north, the road winds through the canyon.

Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:36 – View on the ridge after the steep climb

Past the bench, the grade continues to be moderate and enjoyable. The trail weaves in and out of several stands of black oaks and through gently sloping meadows. At about 2.5 miles, you pass Bear Spring, a nice place to sit and rest, although it can’t be counted on for water.

Just under three miles from the start, the trail passes by a particularly impressive oak and enters a field where it meets up with the fire road, the turnaround point. Here, you can enjoy a view that on clear days includes peaks on the north slope of the San Gabriels across the Santa Clarita Valley.

Black oaks on the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest

1:06 – Black oaks near Bear Spring

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

Looking north from the Pacific Crest Trail at the Martindale Ridge Fire Road, Sierra Pelona, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:25 – Looking north from the top of the ridge (turnaround point)

Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Summit of Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Looking northeast from Oakzanita Peak

Foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Fall foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail

Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 3.2 miles on Highway 79 to a small turnout on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 17 miles.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Oakzanita Peak as seen from the Lower Descanso Trail Head

Oakzanita Peak (elevation 5,054) is the southernmost major summit in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Panoramic views from the top and a good variety of scenery on the way up make it a superior hiking destination. The route is known both for fall foliage and spring wildflowers. While the views are best on clear, cool days, the summit can be quite windy so plan accordingly.

Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – Oakzanita Peak as seen from the East Mesa Fire Road

From the trail head, follow the Lower Descanso Creek Trail which follows–you guessed it–Lower Descanso Creek. Even when the creek is dry, the stroll through the oaks is enjoyable. After an easy 0.7 miles, during which you gain only about 200 feet, you reach the East Mesa Fire Road. Turn right and follow the road for a short distance, during which you get a nice view of Oakzanita Peak, towering above the meadow.

Take the Descanso Creek Trail, which dips down to the stream bed and then begins a steady climb along the north east slope of the mountain. As you climb, you get views of Cuyamaca Peak and later Stonewall Peak’s characteristic triangular shape comes into view.

View of Cuyamaca Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:52 – Cuyamaca Peak as seen from the Descanso Creek Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, a large granite outcrop provides a perfect rest spot with excellent views to the north and east. Farther up, you reach a junction (2.4 miles) where you get a good view to the south. Head right on the spur signed for Oakzanita Peak, making the switchbacks and climbing over a few rocks to reach the summit.

Trail to Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

1:00 – Approaching Oakzanita Peak from the top of the ridge

The views aren’t quite as dramatic as those of Stonewall Peak, but Oakzanita’s location does have the advantage of providing a true 360-degree perspective, due to its distance from Cuyamaca Peak. You can see the East and West Mesa, the Laguna Mountains and El Capitan. If visibility is particularly good you can see the ocean, the Coronado Islands, the Santa Ana Mountains and the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

Oakzanita Peak southwest view

1:20 – Looking southwest from Oakzanita Peak

Dagger Flat from Dillon Divide

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Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest, Sunland, CA

View of Pacoima Canyon on the descent

Oaks in Pacoima Canyon on the way to Dagger Flat and Dutch Louie Flat

Sunlight through the oaks in the bottom of Pacoima Canyon

Dagger Flat from Dillon Divide

  • Location: Western San Gabriel Mountains near the San Fernando Valley.   From I-210 in Sunland, take the Foothill Blvd. exit and head northeast (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if you’re coming from the west.)  Take a quick left on Osborne St. and follow it for a total of 7.2 miles (it becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road along the way). Park on the right side of the road at a dirt turnout by a metal gate blocking off a fire road. From the 14 Freeway, take the Sand Canyon Road exit. Turn left on Soledad Canyon Road and take the first left on Sand Canyon Road. Follow it 10.5 miles (it becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road on the way) to Dillon Divide and park on the left side of the road by the metal gate. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Sunland
  • Recommended gear: insect repellentsun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip description here; description from a Meetup here
  • Rating: 7
Mendenhall Ridge Road, Angeles National Forest

0:00 – Mendenhall Ridge Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From a not very promising start at a dirt turnout on the side of Little Tujunga Canyon Road, this hike quickly becomes one of the more enjoyable ones in the western corner of the San Gabriel Mountains. It explores scenic, secluded Pacoima Canyon, once a popular gold mining spot.

Beginning the descent into Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest, Sunland, CA

0:08 – Bear left at the junction, begin the descent (times are approximate)

Begin by following the Mendenhall Ridge Road (signed 3N32 on the gate, but listed on Google Maps as 4N35) up a slight incline for 0.3 miles. You get excellent views of Pacoima Canyon and Bear Divide on the left. At a Y-junction, take the left fork, which begins a steady descent. The abandoned fire road effectively becomes a single-track, weaving in and out of shade and groves of oaks and sycamores before arriving at the canyon bottom (1.7 miles.)

Head up canyon, crossing the stream bed a few times. If water levels are high, which is unlikely, navigation may be a little tricky, but you should expect to make pretty easy progress. Virtually all sights and sounds of civilization vanish as you follow the canyon.

Geology on the trail to Pacoima Canyon and Dagger Flat, Angeles National Forest

0:18 – Geology on the trail

At 2.6 miles, you reach Dutch Louie Flat, a former campground shaded by several stout oaks. Dutch Louie was an early 20th century prospector known as the “Hermit of the Pacoima.” He died without ever finding his fortune. There is supposedly a tunnel that he dug to divert creek water, making it easier for him to pan, but I wasn’t able to find it.

Oaks and sycamores in Pacoima Canyon on the way to Dagger Flat, Angeles National Forest

0:45 – Oaks and sycamores in Pacoima Canyon

Continuing along the stream bed, you reach a junction at 2.9 miles in a meadow known as Dagger Flat, named for a prospector who was stabbed here around the turn of the century. Here, a steep trail branches off to the left, climbing about 1,300 feet to Santa Clara Divide Road, while another trail continues straight, farther up into the canyon, where it soon deteriorates. Either of these are options if you want to extend the trip but for a moderate day hike, the junction in Dagger Flat makes a good turnaround point.

Dutch Louie Flat, Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest

1:05 – Dutch Louie Flat

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

Dagger Flat, Pacoima Canyon, Angeles National Forest

1:15 – Dagger Flat

Mission Creek Preserve

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Mission Creek, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

Water in the west fork of Mission Creek

Dirt road leading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Heading toward the mountains, Mission Creek Preserve

Mission Creek Preserve

  • Location: Eastern San Bernardino Mountains, northwest of the Coachella Valley. From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 4.7 miles and turn left on Mission Creek Road (dirt but passable by all vehicles). Follow it 2.3 miles to its end at the entrance to the preserve. From the Yucca Valley/29 Palms area, follow Highway 62 southwest to Mission Creek Road, which is 16.2 miles past the junction with Highway 247. If you hit Pierson Blvd, you’ve come too far. Turn right on to the dirt road and follow it to its end.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – April (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo map: Whitewater, Morongo Valley, Catclaw Flats
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Mission Creek Preserve home page here; trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

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

The 4,760-acre Mission Creek Preserve occupies an important transitional zone near the eastern base of the San Bernardino Mountains, offering as good a view of the range as can be found from almost anywhere in the desert. The preserve will be a crucial piece of the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument.

Cottonwod tree, Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains

0:25 – Cottonwood tree in the Painted Hills wetlands (times are approximate)

If you contact the preserve, you may be able to have them unlock the gate, allowing you to drive 1.6 miles to the Stone House and begin your hike from there (high clearance vehicles recommended). Otherwise, start at the lower trail head outside the gate.

Follow the wide dirt road, passing by the ruins of some stone cabins, and continue up canyon with the San Bernardino Mountains looming in the distance. At about a mile from the start, you pass an impressive cottonwood tree and make a sharp right turn, climbing out of the canyon. Soon after you reach the Stone House, where you can look at maps and other displays inside or enjoy a picnic beneath one of the shaded tables. You also can enjoy a wooden rocking chair on the porch of the house.

Stone house in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

0:41 – The stone house

Past the Stone House, the road ends and becomes a single-track trail, weaving in and out of the stream bed, following the trail arrows. At about 2 miles from the start, you reach the reserve boundary. You head up the west fork of Mission Creek, through an increasingly diverse landscape of cottonwoods, cholla, yuccas and more.

Trail in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:22 – Heading into the canyon on Mission Creek’s west fork

At 3.7 miles from the start, you reach the Pacific Crest Trail, the turnaround point for this hike. A popular alternative is, with a pre arranged shuttle, to continue south for 4 miles to the Whitewater Preserve. (People who do this route often do it start from Whitewater, which has less of a net elevation gain).

Mountains, sky and bushes in the Mission Creek Preserve, San Bernardino Mountains, CA

1:40 – Looking back from the Pacific Crest Trail

Note that as of this writing, water levels are low and the trail is easy to follow as it crosses the creek. However, if conditions make navigation difficult, keep in mind the following GPS coordinates : N 34 00.997, W 116 37.690 for the stone house; N 34 01.049, W 116 37.971 for the preserve boundary and N 34 01.493, W 116 39.556 for the junction with the P.C.T.

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

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Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail

Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail

Oak on Limestone Canyon Road

Oak on Limestone Canyon Road

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

  • Location: Silverado, in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.  From the 55 Freeway, take the Chapman Ave. exit and head east for a total of 7.7 miles (Chapman becomes Santiago Canyon Road en route).    Shortly past Irvine Lake, look for the Augustine Staging Area, turn right and park as directed in the lot.  From I-5, take El Toro Road and head northeast for a total of 14.2 miles (El Toro becomes Santiago Canyon Road).  The Augustine Staging Area is on the left, 1.8 miles past Silverado Canyon Road.
  • Agency: Irvine Ranch Company; Orange County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 10.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – June; accessible only during specific times (check Irvine Ranch Company link above for schedule)
  • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Limestone Canyon info here; Everytrail report here; description of upcoming hike on Friday, December 5th here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This loop is a longer version of the popular Shoestring Loop in Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park.  Like the Shoestring, this hike can be done on Wilderness Access Days in Limestone Canyon or as part of one of several docent-led hikes scheduled through the year (it will be next offered on Friday, 11/14 and Friday, 12/5).  Click the Irvine Ranch Company link for available dates.  The full version described here is more than 10 miles long, but if you are hiking independently on a Wilderness Access Day, you can shorten the loop to just under 8 miles.  On the guided hikes, the volunteer docents may give the group the option of shortening the hike, but be prepared for the full route–almost all of which is exposed.

0:20 - Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy's hikes)

0:20 – Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s hikes)

Begin by heading toward the Hicks Haul Road.  Turn right and follow it for a short distance to the Shoestring Trail, a single-track.  Cross a wooden footbridge and follow the Shoestring Trail for about 0.7 miles as it parallels Santiago Canyon Road, making its way up and down a few short but steep hills.

0:41 - Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail

0:41 – Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail

At just under a mile from the start, turn left and begin an ascent on a fire road.  After about a mile of steady climbing, you reach the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail, where you get some good views to the southwest.  You follow this trail southeast for about 1.4 miles, making several more small ascents and descents, before reaching a junction with the paved Hicks Haul Road.  (This would be your return route on the 4.5 mile Shoestring Loop.)

1:12 - Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge

1:12 – Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge

To continue toward the Sandtrap Trail, bear right on the Hicks Haul Road and go a short distance to the East Loma Ridge Road.  It climbs for about a mile, taking in some excellent views in all directions, finally reaching a junction with the Sandtrap Trail.  Turn left and make a brief ascent to the highest point on the hike, just over 1,600 feet in elevation.  Enjoy some more views, which may extend to the San Gabriels if visibility is good, before beginning a steep descent.

1:33 - Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail

1:33 – Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail

The Sandtrap Trail follows a curving ridge that drops almost 700 feet in 1.4 miles.  At 6.3 miles, you reach a T-junction in oak-shaded Limestone Canyon.  If you want to end the hike here, turn left and follow Limestone Canyon Road about 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.  To extend the hike, turn right and follow the fire road up a gradual incline for a mile, enjoying a little bit of shade from sparsely spaced oaks and sycamores, to the Raptor Trail.

2:11 - Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail

2:11 – Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail

The single-track Raptor Trail crosses a footbridge and begins a rather steep climb, gaining 250 feet in half a mile.  At Limestone Ridge, turn left and follow the trail up and down some bumps, noting the characteristic sandstone geology of Black Star Canyon in the distance.  A steep descent brings you back into the canyon (9.2 miles from the start) where you bear right on Limestone Canyon Road and follow it just over a mile back to the parking lot.

2:40 - View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge

2:40 – View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

3:10 - View of Black Star Canyon's geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon

3:10 – View of Black Star Canyon’s geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon

Arroyo Burro Loop

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Dusk on the Arroyo Burro fire road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

Sunlight through the trees on Arroyo Burro Road

View of the Santa Ynez River Valley, Arroyo Burro Road

View of the Santa Ynez River Valley, Arroyo Burro Road

Arroyo Burro Loop

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, take Highway 154 north for 7.8 miles to East Camino Cielo. Take a hard right and follow the winding road for 6.2 miles. Park in a large dirt turnout on the left side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 7.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo maps: San Marcos Pass; Little Pine Mountain
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; photos here
    • Rating: 8
Start of the Arroyo Burro Loop, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:00 – View from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the section of the Arroyo Burro Trail in Santa Barbara’s front country, this hike explores the hills above the Santa Ynez River Valley, providing panoramic views and a good amount of shade from several thick oak groves. The loop, which is comprised of a single-track trail and a fire road, can be hiked in either direction, but since the single-track is far steeper, hiking the loop clockwise, as described here, allows for a more moderate ascent. This is a reverse hike, although it can also be done as a slightly longer conventional hike starting from Paradise Road in the valley below. With a car shuttle, it can also be done point-to-point.

Start of the Arroyo Burro Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:05 – Turnoff for the Arroyo Burro Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the dirt road past a metal gate. You pass by a shooting range and  another gate before reaching a junction with an easy-to-miss trail on the left. This is the Arroyo Burro Trail, which takes a hard left away from the road and begins its largely shaded descent.

Stream crossing on the Arroyo Burro Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:35 – Stream crossing

You drop steadily, crossing Arroyo Burro and its various tributaries several times, making your way in and out of oak woodlands. As you enjoy the shade and seclusion, keep an eye out for poison oak.

At about 2.5 miles from the start, you reach a T-junction. Head right, soon reaching a dirt road where you again stay right, passing a water tank and the upper end of White Oak Camp.

Trail junction in Arroyo Burro Canyon, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

1:10 – Turn right at the T junction at the bottom of the Arroyo Burro Trail

Arroyo Burro Road then begins its long climb back to the trail head. The ascent is steady but never too steep, providing ample time to enjoy the wide-ranging views of the valley. After about a mile of ascent (about 4 miles from the start), stay straight as a trail heading toward Matias Potrero Camp branches off to the left. Soon afterward you enter another attractive stand of oaks and the majority of the hike’s remainder is shaded.

Arroyo Burro Road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

1:18 – Approaching Arroyo Burro Road; start of the ascent

More ascent brings you to the upper reaches of Arroyo Burro Road where you complete the loop and return to Camino Cielo. Arroyo Burro’s name likely comes from its history as a miners’ supply route and the burros that carried the equipment.

Oak woodland on Arroyo Burro Road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

2:00 – Into the woods on the Arroyo Burro Road ascent

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.

2:25 - VIew from near the top of Arroyo Burro Road

2:25 – View from near the top of Arroyo Burro Road

Big Laguna Trail

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View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail, eastern San Diego County

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail

Panoramic view of Big Laguna Meadow, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

Big Laguna Meadow

Big Laguna Trail

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County in the Cleveland National Forest, near the town of Mt. Laguna.  From San Diego, take I-8 to exit 47 (Sunrise Highway or County Road S1).  Head north (left) for 14.6 miles and park at the Penny Pines Trailhead on the right side of the road.  From Julian and points north take highway 79 to Sunrise Highway/S1 and head southeast (left) for 9.2 miles.  The Penny Pines Trailhead will be on the left.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Descanso District
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo maps:  Monument Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 8
Start of the Noble Canyon Trail in the Laguna Mountains, San Diego County

0:00 – Start of the hike at the Penny Pines Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This long but moderately graded loop showcases the scenic variety of the Laguna Mountains, including meadows, pine woodlands and dramatic views of the Anza-Borrego Desert to the east. There are several possible starting points, but this post assumes you will hike from the Penny Pines trail head near mile marker 27.5 on the Sunrise Scenic Highway and go clockwise. This saves the best views for last and allows you to warm up with four virtually flat miles; advantageous for hikers sensitive to altitude (the trail head is a mile above sea level.) The Big Laguna Trail is actually a network of trails and the route described here (6 miles on the Big Laguna and 4 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail) doesn’t have to be followed exactly for an enjoyable experience; do as much or as little as your time and energy allow.

Junction on the Big Laguna Trail, San Diego County

0:24 – Junction at the top of Big Laguna Meadow (times are approximate)

From the Penny Pines trail head, pick up the Noble Canyon Trail on the west side of the highway. Go through a gate and pass by an information board and soon reach a junction where you’ll turn left on the Big Laguna Trail and follow it through a pleasant woodland of Jeffrey pines and black oaks.

Black oaks and pines on the Big Laguna Trail, Laguna Mountains, San Diego County

0:50 – Black oaks and pines, Big Laguna Trail (stay straight at the junction)

Just under a mile from the start, you enter the upper end of Big Laguna Meadow and reach a junction.  Both trails are part of the Big Laguna system but the quickest route is to stay straight, following the eastern side of the meadow (it will be on your right).

Little Laguna Meadow, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

1:03 – Bear left at the junction in Little Laguna Meadow

After entering the woods again, stay right at the next junction, a spur leading to a campground. At about 2.5 miles, you reach a T-junction where you’ll head left and walk through a smaller meadow. If there have been recent rains, Little Laguna Lake will come to life. The trail splits but both forks soon reconnect. At 2.8 miles, you reach a fence where you will turn right and cross over a boardwalk (on the opposite side of the fence, the trail continues toward the Laguna Campground.)

Boardwalk on the Big Laguna Trail leading through a meadow, Cleveland Natinonal Forest

1:10 – Take a walk on the boardwalk

Follow the trail with the fence on the left to a service road under a telephone line. Bear left, go a short distance and make a hard left on the Big Laguna Trail which now travels through an attractive grove of tall pines. At about 4 miles from the start, you make another hard left and begin the first significant climbing of the entire route, crossing dirt Los Huecos Road in half a mile. Beyond, the trail passes a primitive campsite and follows a road bed through pines and oaks; when the trail bends north you may get a glimpse of the Cuyamaca Mountains to the west. After a little while the trail splits off to the left and descends toward the Sunrise Scenic Highway.

Service road, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

1:27 – Bear left at the junction with the service road

At 5.5 miles you cross the road and ascend for another half mile to meet the Pacific Crest Trail. This is an alternative starting point. Turn left and follow the P.C.T. out of the woods and up to a ridge, where you will get good views of the Cuyamaca Mountains. If visibility is good you may even get a glimpse of the ocean. The rocky outline of Garnet Peak dominates to the north.

Big Laguna Trail heads through pines, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

1:41 – Up hill through the pines

Soon you reach a saddle where you get some excellent views of Storm Canyon and the desert below. The P.C.T. meanders through the meadow, dropping into a ravine and climbing to a spot where you can observe the view either from a bench or a wooden deck (8.8 miles from the start). This is also an optional trail head.

Pines on the Big Laguna Trail, Cleveland National Forest

2:02 – Leave Los Huercos Road and follow the Big Laguna Trail to the highway

Past the bench, the P.C.T. continues, switch backing once again down into a canyon and continuing north before finally reaching a spur that leads back to the Penny Pines trail head.

View of the Cuyamaca Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail

2:45 – View of the Cuyamaca Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 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 of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

3:50 – View from the bench, just over a mile from the end