Piedras Pintadas Trail

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Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges from the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges as seen from the Piedras Pindatas Trail

Wildflowers, Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Spring wildflowers on the Piedras Pintadas Trail

Piedras Pintadas Trail

      • Location: Rancho Bernardo Community Tennis Club (part of Rancho Bernardo Community Park), 18402 W. Bernardo Drive, San Diego. From I-15, take the West Bernardo Drive/Pomadero Road exit. Turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north and follow West Bernardo Drive 0.5 miles to Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Turn right into the park, pass the Glassman Center and park where available near the tennis courts.
      • Agency: San Dieguito River Park
      • Distance: 3.3 miles (out and back with loop)
      • Elevation gain: 250 feet
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round
      • USGS topo map: Escondido
      • Recommended gear: sun hat
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Trip description (longer route) here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
Piedras Pintadas trail head, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

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

This section of the San Dieguito River Park was once inhabited by the Kumeyaay Indians who used the natural resources in and around Lake Hodges. Today hikers can enjoy views of Bernardo Mountain, Lake Hodges, spring flowers and a small seasonal waterfall, all the while learning about the area’s natural history from a series of interpretive plaques.

Information board on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:02 – Turn left at the info board (times are approximate)

There are multiple trails leading from the community center, making many different routes possible. The trip described here samples the area’s scenery. It’s short enough to squeeze in before or after work or as weekend excursion but can also be easily extended on any of several other trails that branch off.

Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:04 – Left turn at the junction

From the parking area, follow the signed Piedras Pintadas Trail north to a junction (0.1 miles.) At an information board, turn left (west), merge with another trail and make another left turn (0.2 miles), continuing to follow the sings for the Piedras Pindatas Trail. Stay straight at another junction and enter the wetlands of one of Lake Hodges’s inlets. Interpretive plaques identify the flora, including elderberry, wild cucumber and more. You cross a boardwalk and then a larger footbridge from which you get good views of Bernardo Mountain to the north and Battle Mountain, with its characteristic cross, to the east.

Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:10 – Battle Mountain as seen from the footbridge

On the opposite side of the bridge, bear right and follow the trail around the south edge of the lake. Though the noise of traffic from I-15 is still audible, by this point it is noticeably quieter than earlier. You pass by an impressive oak which unfortunately has been blocked off due to human encroachment. Soon after, you follow another inlet, where you are greeted with the pleasant surprise of a 15-foot seasonal waterfall (one mile from the start).

Seasonal waterfall on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:25 – Seasonal waterfall

The trail then enters more wetlands before emerging at a junction. Bear right and follow the trail to the beginning of the loop (1.2 miles.) The short loop can be hiked in either direction but by going clockwise, you get to save the best scenery for last. Follow the loop as it descends gradually, passing by a tall oak with a bench underneath where one can rest and enjoy a view of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain. Past the oak, stay right as the San Dieguito River Trail branches off to the left. You climb to the top of a ridge, weaving in and out of some large boulders, taking in some panoramic views before descending back to the start of the loop (2.1 miles.) Retrace your steps back to the community center.

Wetlands on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:30 – Wetlands

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 top of the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

1:00 – View from the top of the loop

Slide Mountain Lookout

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Looking northwest from Slide Mountain, Angeles National Forest, California

Northwest view from the summit

Geology on the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

Geology and mountain views

Slide Mountain Lookout

  • Location: Angeles National Forest, northwest of Valencia and Castaic. From I-5, take the Templin Highway exit. Head west (turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north) and take a quick right on Golden State Highway. Drive 5 miles to the road’s end at Frenchman’s Flat Campground. 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/Santa Clarita and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Black Mountain
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; ANF Fire Lookout page here; video taken at the lookout here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
Beginning of the hike to Slide Mountain at Frenchman Flat, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:00 – Start of the hike at Frenchmans Flat (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Slide Mountain (elevation 4,631) is one of the taller peaks in the western corner of the Angeles National Forest and is home to an active lookout tower which was constructed in 1969. The hike is an exercise in delayed gratification: it starts with a 1.6-mile walk on pavement followed by 2.3 miles of steady uphill, much of which is on exposed south-facing slopes. However, the views during the last mile and a half and from the summit are worth the effort. Navigation and terrain are easy, making this a great training hike for those who want to build their endurance. The mountain is conveniently located to the Santa Clarita Valley and is not too far from the San Fernando Valley or even downtown L.A.

Beginning of the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:42 – Leaving the paved road, starting the ascent (times are approximate)

From the end of the Golden State Highway, walk past the gate and follow the paved road as it gradually ascends. After 0.5 miles, you cross Piru Creek on a bridge. You continue following the canyon carved by the creek, the steep walls blocking out most of the noise from I-5. At 1.6 miles, turn left on an unsigned fire road that is listed as the Slide Peak Trail on Google Maps.
Marker on the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:12 – Marker on the trail as it becomes a single track

Now the work begins. For the duration of the trip, the trail maintains a nearly steady pace of just over 600 feet of elevation gain per mile; it is never brutally steep but it also never lets up. The views get better and better as you climb, and depending on what time of day you are hiking, the ridges may block out the sun.

At 2.7 miles, the trail makes a hard left turn and becomes a single track. An unmarked memorial stands here, marking the approximate half way point (in distance) between Frenchman’s Flat and the peak, although the vast majority of the elevation gain still lies ahead. A beam placed on two rocks makes a makeshift bench for those who need to rest.

View of Slide Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:48 – View of Slide Peak from the saddle

The trail continues its ascent, finally reaching a saddle at 3.9 miles. Here, you get excellent views to the west and south as well as the eastern vistas which have been with you during your climb. Slide Mountain’s round shape lies unmistakably before you; to the northwest is taller Dome Mountain, which serves as a Ventura/L.A. County benchmark.

On the opposite side of the saddle, the trail passes by some interesting sandstone outcrops before making a few switchbacks, passing through a pleasantly green (depending on the season) hillside. At 4.4 miles, the trail follows a north-facing slope with excellent views of Pyramid Lake. Though the only vegetation is chaparral and scrub oak, the ridge itself provides shade.

Pyramid Lake, northwest Los Angeles County, CA as seen from the Slide Mountain Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:03 – View of Pyramid Lake

At about 5.2 miles, the metal structure of the lookout comes into view. One last switchback brings you to the summit where you can enjoy a 360-degree vista. If the weather is clear, the San Emigdio Mountains can be seen to the north; the Santa Monicas and Hollywood Hills lie to the south and Baldy and the San Gabriels are southeast. You also get a bird’s eye perspective on Pyramid Lake, I-5 and the paved road on which you hiked earlier–more than two thousand feet below.

Approaching Slide Mountain Lookout, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:28 – Approaching the lookout

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.

Southeast view from Slide Summit, Angeles National Forest, CA

2:30 – Looking southeast from Slide Mountain

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

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Wilderness Gardens Preserve, Pala, CA

View of Wilderness Gardens Preserve from the Upper Meadow Trail

Oaks and sycamores in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

Oaks and sycamores on the Upper Meadow Trail

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

  • Location: Highway 76 between Pala and Pauma Valley, 27 miles east of I-5 and 9.7 miles east of I-15. Turn right onto Bodie Blvd, signed for the park.  From the Riverside/Temecula area, take I-15 south to Temecula Parkway. Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Pechanga Parkway. Follow it for a total of 9 miles (it becomes Pala Road and Pala-Temecula Road en route) to its ending at Pala Mission Road. Turn left and follow Pala Mission Road 0.5 miles to Highway 76. Bear left onto Highway 76 and follow it 3 miles to the park entrance. Parking is $3 per vehicle (cash only).
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October-June; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – 4pm. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Pala
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; articles about the park here and here
  • Rating: 6
Wilderness Gardens Preserve trail head, San Diego County, CA

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

This attractive 676-acre park occupies the site of a former retreat of Los Angeles newspaper magnate Manchester Boddy. The park’s vegetation is a mix of non-natives such as eucalyptus, holly, oleander and native oak, sycamore and even a few cacti.

Fire road in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:02 – Junction with the Upper Meadow Trail (times are approximate)

There are several miles of trails, making for multiple possible routes. One can enjoy a stroll here without having a particular destination or itinerary but a complete circuit of the park, as described here, doesn’t take much time or effort.

From the parking area, follow the main dirt road heading west, almost immediately crossing the San Luis Rey River (virtually dry as of this writing, but during rainy winters, expect calf-high water) and arriving at a junction with the Upper Meadow Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction but by going counter-clockwise, as described here, you’ll save the most interesting scenery for last.

Indian motreros, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:07 – Motreros

Follow the fire road, keeping an eye out for some Indian morteros in a rock on the left. You pass by a few nice oak specimens before arriving at a junction. The two routes soon rejoin so take either. Once they meet up again, turn right and walk a short distance to the Pond Trail. Turn right and follow it 0.2 miles around the circumference of a small seasonal pond and continue to a junction with the Camelia View Trail. This 0.7 mile loop (part single-track, part fire road) can be hiked in either direction, taking you to the western boundary of the preserve.

Pond at Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – The pond

After completing the loop, head back, following the trail past the pond to the beginning of the Upper Meadow Trail. You begin ascending (the only significant climbing on the entire route) through an attractive oak and sycamore woodland, arriving at Upper Meadow, where you get a good view of the Palomar Mountains. Shortly beyond is a bench located at a spot with panoramic views to the west of the entire preserve and beyond.

Upper Meadow Trail, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County

0:50 – Start of the Upper Meadow Trail

After enjoying the vistas, make a steep descent on a wooden beam staircase, soon arriving back on the river bed floor. Bear right and follow the trail back to the first junction and to the trail head. If you have time consider exploring the half-mile Alice Fries Nature Trail, which starts and ends in the parking lot.

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.

0:58 - View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

0:58 – View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

 

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

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Panoramic view from the trails of East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Looking west from the Walker Loop

Rolling hills and grasslands, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

Ascending the Walker Loop

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita, Placerita Canyon.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway north to Placerita Canyon Road.  Turn right and go 3.4 miles and look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road.  From Lancaster, take the 14 Freeway south to the Sand Canyon Road exit.  Turn left on Soledad Canyon Road and make a quick left on Sand Canyon.  Go 3.3 miles and turn right on Placerita Canyon.  Go 1.5 miles and park in the turnout on the right side of the road.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 550 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo maps: Mint Canyon
        • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
        • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here
        • Rating: 6
Trail head for Golden Valley Ranch and East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

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

Named for local settler Frank Walker who lived in the area in the early 20th century, Walker Ranch is a 140-acre open space adjacent to Placerita Canyon Park and operated by the city of Santa Clarita. Highlights include the panoramic views of the Santa Clarita Valley, majestic oaks and the ruins of Walker’s homestead.

Ruins of the Walker Homestead, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:07 – East Walker homestead (times are approximate)

The various trails that cross the property, allowing for multiple possible hikes. The 3-mile route described here samples the park’s best scenery and can be lengthened or shortened as needed. This post assumes you will be starting at the Golden Valley Ranch trail head, the closer of the two trail heads to the 14 Freeway and hiking clockwise, allowing yourself a chance to warm up on a level grade before tackling the first steep ascent, while enjoying excellent westbound views on the way down.

Trail head at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:18 – Alternate access point 0.6 miles from the start

From the parking area, head into Golden Valley Ranch and almost immediately take a right on a footbridge. You follow the trail through rolling grasslands to another footbridge and continue east, following Placerita Canyon Road. At 0.3 miles, you reach a short spur leading to the ruins of the homestead, now little more than two stone columns.

Pine tree in a clearing, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:27 – Clearing at the end of the gravel road before the ascent on the single-track

After retracing your steps, follow the trail under the road through a narrow metal tunnel (ignore the unmaintained trail that continues east, following the road.) On the south side of Placerita Canyon Road, you face your first ascent, a short but steep (100 feet in just over a tenth of a mile) climb that will likely have your calves burning when you reach the top. This is followed by a descent and another climb of about the same distance, bringing you to a parking lot that serves as an alternate trail head (0.6 miles.)

Panoramic view of the Santa Clarita Valley from East Walker Ranch, California

0:48 – Looking north from the vista point

Follow a paved road out of the lot to a junction. Head left (the right route gets you to the same spot but is steeper and not as scenic) and walk along a gravel road to a clearing with a tall pine tree (0.9 miles.) A single-track trail passes through a fence on the opposite side of the clearing, steadily ascending a grassy hill side. As you climb, you enjoy views to the north including the formations of Vasquez Rocks and the San Gabriel Mountains straight ahead to the east.

At 1.2 miles, you reach a bench where you can catch your breath and take in a good view to the west. More climbing brings you to a Y-junction (1.5 miles.) The Raynier Trail heads off to the left; this shaded but not as scenic route is an option if you want to extend the hike. To continue following the Walker Loop, bear right and make a brief ascent to another vista point.

Sunlight through trees at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:51 – Four-way junction (stay straight)

The trail then descends to a four-way junction (1.7 miles.) Head straight on the Allen Trail, reaching a third vista point shaded by an impressive oak (2 miles.) The trail then makes a short but steep and loose descent into the upper reaches of Placerita Canyon. As you follow the trail downhill, you can pick out the Los Pinetos Trail in Placerita Canyon State Park, ascending the ridge on the opposite side of the valley on its way to Wilson Canyon Saddle and Manzanita Peak.

Sunlight through oak branches, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

1:00 – Vista point on the descent

At 2.8 miles, the trail reaches a junction at the bottom of the hill. Turn right and follow the trail back to Placerita Canyon Road, carefully crossing it to complete the loop. If you still have time and energy, Golden Valley Ranch Park offers multiple miles of challenging and scenic trails, as does Placerita Canyon Park down the street.

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.

Dusk panorama at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

1:10 – Looking west at dusk in upper Placerita Canyon

Strawberry Peak

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Looking east from the summit of Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, CA

Looking east toward Mt. Baldy from Strawberry Peak

Looking southwest at the Angeles National Forest and L.A. Basin from Strawberry Peak, highest point in the front country of the Angeles National Forest

Southwest view from below Strawberry Peak

Strawberry Peak

    • Location: Red Box Picnic Area, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway northeast for 14 miles and park at the Red Box Picnic Area, at the junction with the road to Mt. Wilson.  From the high desert, take the Angeles Forest Highway south to Big Tujunga Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway.  Turn right and go 4.3 miles to Red Box, which will be on the left.  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: 7 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
    • More information: Trip descriptions (pre-Station Fire) here and here; trip reports both pre-and post-Station Fire here; Hundred Peaks page here; Everytrail report here; video shot from the summit here
    • Rating: 9
Strawberry Peak Trail Head on the Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains, CA

0:00 – Looking east on the Angeles Crest Highway from Red Box (note trail on the left side of the road). Click thumbnails to see the full sized versions.

Strawberry Peak (elevation 6,164 feet) is the tallest summit in the front country of the San Gabriel Mountains, beating San Gabriel Peak by a mere yard. The peak has only recently been opened for legal access following the Station Fire. Thanks to the efforts of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, the trail has been restored. Though poodle dog bush–the plant that causes irritation similar to that of poison oak–can be found in abundance on the trail, it’s not as bad as in some other parts of the Station Fire burn area.

Oak woodland on the Strawberry Peak Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:15 – Into the woods (times are approximate)

The mountain’s name comes from its resemblance to an upside-down strawberry. On most clear days, Strawberry Peak is visible from the L.A. basin, appearing as a round bump behind San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson. The mountain’s prominence provides hikers with excellent views, but it also requires a very steep climb.

Fortunately the hike starts easily. From Red Box, carefully cross the Angeles Crest Highway and pick up the trail on the opposite side. It ascends gradually, running parallel to the highway for about 0.6 miles. It then veers to the north, entering a pleasant oak woodland. Unfortunately, this short stretch represents more or less all of the shade on the whole hike.

View of Mt. Wilson from the Strawberry Peak Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:20 – Hard left on a switchback, heading toward Mt. Wilson

At 0.8 miles, you make a hairpin left turn and head west, back toward Mt. Wilson. You reach a saddle (1.1 miles) where you get an excellent view to the west, including Mt. Lukens, Josephine Peak, the Santa Monica Mountains and more. The trail follows the western slope of Mt. Lawlor for an enjoyable 1.3 miles. If you’ve gotten an early start, the sun will be blocked by the mountain, making your hike pleasantly cool. At about 2 miles, you round a corner and Strawberry Peak’s intimidating contour comes into view. Shortly after, you reach Lawlor Saddle (2.4 miles.)

Western view of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Strawberry Peak Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:28 – Looking west from the saddle

By now, you’ve done about 2/3 of the distance, but only 1/3 of the elevation gain. Make sure you rest up. Follow the steep trail up the ridge, quickly gaining 150 feet as you reach the top of a knoll. You then have to relinquish about half of that as the trail drops sharply to a saddle. From there, the trail ascends relentlessly, with only a few flat stretches. The good news is that each time you stop to catch your breath, you’ll be treated to excellent views, which now include Mt. Baldy to the east.

View from Lawlor Saddle below Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:00 – The steep trail ascending to Strawberry Peak as seen from Lawlor Saddle

Picking your way farther up the trail, you pass by a few Coulter pines that survived the fire. You reach a false summit and follow a ridge line a short distance before finally arriving on the real peak.

Before the Station Fire, pines blocked the view. While you may miss their shade on hot days, their absence means that you can enjoy a true 360-degree panorama. On days of exceptional visibility, you can see Santa Cruz Island and the Topa Topa range near Ojai to the west, San Jacinto to the east and the Palomar Mountains to the southeast. Make sure you rest your legs for the steep descent back to Lawlor Saddle.

Steep trail to Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:19 – One of several steep ascents on the trail to Strawberry Peak

On a personal note, my first encounter with Strawberry Peak, pre-Station Fire, was the first true butt-kicking I ever experienced on a trail. While I would go on to many more difficult peaks, Strawberry was the toughest one I’d done at the time, far more difficult than I expected. I had long been looking forward to being able to go back and while I was grateful for the opportunity, I can honestly report that it was as hard as I’d remembered. Thus I give it the “evil” distinction of being hike #666 posted on this site. Nevertheless, despite the challenges it presents, it’s an essential San Gabriel summit with views that are worth the effort.

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from the summit of Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:45 – Looking down into Big Tujunga Canyon from Strawberry Peak’s summit

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 Mateo Peak

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View from San Mateo Peak, Santa Ana Mountains, Riverside County, California

Lake Elsinore and San Gorgonio Mountain as seen from San Mateo Peak

San Mateo Peak

  • Location: Santa Ana Mountains in eastern Orange County.  From I-5 in San Jaun Capistrano, take highway 74 northeast for 23 miles.  Just past the ranger station, turn right (south) on South Main Divide Road.  Drive 2.8 miles and park at a dirt turnout on the right side of the road.  From Lake Elsinore, drive 5.1 miles southwest on Highway 74 and turn left on South Main Divide Road (ranger station=too far).  Go 2.8 miles and park in the dirt lot on the right side of the road.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) are required.  Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Sitton Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent; hiking poles
  • More information: Trip description here; Peakbagger page here
  • Rating: 7
View from the Morgan Trail Head, Cleveland National Forest, Santa Ana Mountains, CA

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

San Mateo Peak (elevation 3,591) is the unofficial name of the highest point in the Santa Ana Mountains south of the Ortega Highway. Despite the panoramic views from the top and peak’s proximity to the heavily traveled Ortega Highway, the mountain remains somewhat off the radar of So Cal hikers, not being mentioned in any major guides. The trail appears to receive light but regular traffic from hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. A few spots are rough but overall it is in good shape and easy to follow.

Junction on a hiking trail in the Santa Ana Mountains, Riverside County, CA

0:05 – Turnoff from the Morgan Trail (times are approximate)

Begin on the Morgan Trail, following it for 0.2 miles through pleasant rolling terrain. Just before the register box, take a hairpin left turn and follow an unsigned trail. A few tree branches block the way but they are easy to bypass. A sign reading “Rancho Cap. 2, Loop 5″ can be seen on the left. The trail follows the upper reaches of Morrell Canyon, passing through more attractive woodlands, crossing the stream bed a few times. At 0.4 miles, turn right at a T-junction and follow it deeper into the woods.

Trail junction in the Santa Ana Mountains, Riverside County, CA

0:10 – Right turn at the T-junction

At 0.7 miles, take a hairpin right turn on a trail marked with a dinosaur(!) The trail soon leaves the woods, climbing sharply to a bench where you can see the ridge of San Mateo Peak to the left. You pass another dinosaur on a post as the trail continues to follow the exposed ridge, providing views of San Jacinto Peak and Lake Elsinore to to the east.

At about 1.5 miles, you dip sharply, dropping about 50 feet. After crossing the saddle, you begin your final push to the summit, climbing 400 feet in 0.6 miles. At the summit, a wooden marker generously lists the peak’s elevation at 4,000 feet and a register can be found in a coffee cup, signed by about a dozen or so people monthly.

Trail marked by a dinosaur in the Santa Ana Mountains, Riverside County, CA

0:18 – Dinosaur marking the trail to San Mateo Peak (take a hard right)

The wide summit is strewn with boulders that are easy to climb; from this vantage point, you can enjoy a wonderful 360-degree panorama. If visibility is good, you can see (clockwise from the south) the ocean, Catalina Island, the northern Santa Ana Mountains, Baldy, San Gorgoino, San Jacinto, the Santa Rosas, Palomars and Cuyamacas. After enjoying the view, retrace your steps, exercising appropriate caution on the loose, steep sections of the trail.

View of mountains in the Cleveland National Forest, Riverside County, CA

0:25 – View of the San Mateo Ridge from the top of the first steep ascent

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.

Sunset over the ocean from San Mateo Peak, Cleveland National Forest, Riverside County, CA

1:10 – Sunset from San Mateo Peak


Wind Wolves Preserve

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Sandstone geology at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, California

Sandstone geology at the Reflection Pond site, Wind Wolves Preserve

Panoramic view of the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, California

View from the Reflection Pond Trail, Wind Wolves Preserve

Wind Wolves Preserve

  • Location: South San Joaquin Valley, south of Bakersfield. The entrance is on Highway 166, 13 miles east of the junction with Highway 33 and 10 miles west of the junction with I-5. The physical address is 16019 Maricopa Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93311. If you’re coming from the east, the entrance will be on the left; the west, the right. Follow the access road three miles south and bear right to enter the preserve. After signing in at the booth, bear left at a Y-junction and follow the road to its end at a day use parking area (about 2.6 miles from the entrance to the park). Parking is free but donations of $5 per individual or $10 per family are suggested.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy
  • Distance: 9.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May (8am – 5pm)
  • USGS topo maps: Eagle Rest Peak
  • More information: Wildlands Conservancy page here; Yelp page here; TV report about the preserve here; trip report here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
Information boards at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:00 – Info boards at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Wildlands Conservancy is known for the properties it oversees on the eastern slope of the San Bernardino Mountains such as Mission Creek and Whitewater Canyon. However, they also operate this large preserve south of Bakersfield, located in the transitional zone between the San Emigdio Mountains and the Central Valley. The preserve is about a two hour drive from downtown L.A. and just over an hour from the Santa Clarita Valley. It could loosely be described as Chino Hills State Park on steroids, weighing in at an impressive 93,000 acres. The rolling terrain of San Emigdio Canyon resembles that of Chino Hills State Park but the preserve also includes the forested slopes of the taller mountains, providing runoff for a seasonal stream and waterfall.

Waterfall at the Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:02 – Waterfall (times are approximate)

Camping is available in the park with a reservation. Day hikers can choose from several possible routes. The park is an enjoyable place for wandering but for hikers who want a specific goal, the Reflection Pond is a good destination. Even if the seasonal pond is dry, which is the case of this writing, the hike to and from it is a good workout that offers a nice sampling of the reserve’s scenery.

El Camino Viejo (The Old Road), Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:06 – Heading south on El Camino Viejo

The two main trails through the park are the single-track San Emigdio Trail and the El Camino Viejo bike path, a fire road. A few short trails connect the two at various intervals. The route described here takes the El Camino Viejo outbound and San Emigdio back, creating a very long, thin loop with a spur to the pond.

From the parking area, follow the El Camino Viejo path, passing the start of the San Emigdio Trail, to a concrete apron crossing the stream. A paved path on the right leads down a staircase to a small seasonal waterfall (really just a check dam, but still a nice little spot.) After visiting the waterfall, follow El Camino Viejo south into the canyon, ascending gradually. This path follows the original El Camino Viejo, the oldest inland north-south road in California.

The Willows picnic area and campground, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

0:55 – The Willows

At about 0.7 miles, you pass the Twin Fawns Picnic Area. The trail continues for a pleasant if uneventful 1.5 miles to the Willows, a wetland with many trees (one of which has a low limb that requires support from two metal poles.) Here there are picnic tables, full-service restrooms and camping. Beyond, El Camino Viejo continues to a junction with the Reflection Pond Trail (3.4 miles from the start.)

Reflection Pond trail, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

1:30 – Reflection Pond trail head

Turn left and follow it across the canyon, passing an unmarked junction with the south end of the San Emigdio Trail; note this spot if you want to take that route back. The trail then begins a steep climb, ascending 350 feet in 0.4 miles. At the top, pass through a fence and follow the trail into a meadow, bearing right at a junction and soon arriving at the site of the pond. The official trail ends at a jumble of sandstone boulders, one of which has a small cave carved inside it. From here, you can enjoy panoramic views of the mountains to the south and the rolling hills and meadows to the east, north and west. This is the turnaround point for the hike.

Panoramic views of hills and mountains, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

2:00 – Site of the reflection pond (turnaround point)

After descending back into the canyon, take a right on the San Emigdio Trail and follow it in and out of the creek, heading north and downhill toward the Willows. Shortly before the Willows, stay straight as a trail branches off to the left. You reach a picnic table and a Y-junction; this time you’ll bear left and walk into the heart of the wetlands, ducking under some branches. At 6.7 miles, you reach a clearing with a few benches. The trail continues straight, crossing the stream again before crossing under a wooden arch and reaching a junction with the short Bobcat Loop, an option if you want to extend the hike.

San Emigdio Canyon Trail, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

2:30 – Heading back on the San Emigdio Canyon Trail

The San Emigdio Trail then branches off to the right (if you go straight, you’ll reach El Camino Viejo). Follow it along the creek, passing a few gnarled willows and another junction that heads off to El Camino Viejo before arriving at a picnic area called the Patio. You soon reach another junction; the two trails soom reconnect (the left route sticks closer to the canyon while the right is on higher, dryer ground). Soon after the trails rejoin, you reach the end of the Sam Emigdio Canyon Trail, completing the loop.

Picnic area at the Willows, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:00 – Returning to the Willows from the other side

Interestingly, “Wind Wolves” does not actually refer to the animals, but to the tall grasses that are found throughout the park. In high winds, the grasses wave, creating the impression of animals moving through them.

Clearing with benches in the wetlands at the Willows, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:10 – Clearing in the wetlands (stay straight)

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.

Patio picnic area, Wind Wolves Preserve, San Joaquin Valley, CA

3:45 – “The Patio”