Elsmere Canyon

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Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon

Geology in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

The Towsley geological formation, Elsmere Canyon

Elsmere Canyon

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round (best after recent rains)
  • USGS topo maps: Oat Mountain, San Fernando
  • More information: here; trip description here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report (loop route) here
  • Rating: 7
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:00 – Elsmere Canyon Open Space trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The small seasonal waterfall in Elsmere Canyon is a pleasant surprise for hikers who may feel as if they know all of the trails in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Even during the summer months when the waterfall is likely to be dry the enjoyable stroll along the Creek Trail is a good way to beat the heat. Elsmere Canyon is large (over 1,200 acres) and the 6-mile loop around the perimeter of the park is a challenging workout, but power lines and exposure to freeway noise detract from the experience. The short hike to and from the waterfall is the most enjoyable one in the park and one of the best easy hikes in the area.

Creek Trail, Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:06 – Bear left on the Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the Whitney Canyon Trail Head, which also serves as an entry point to Elsmere Canyon, follow the trail signed for Elsmere Canyon as it heads south along the border of the parking lot, up a ridge and downhill to a junction (0.2 miles.) Bear left on the signed Creek Trail which follows a pleasant course along a seasonal stream, crossing it several times. Soon you’re under the shade of oaks and you’ll also notice the tall rock walls, part of the Towsley Formation, rising high on the west side of the canyon.

Single track trail in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:27 – Turnoff for the waterfall

At 0.9 miles, you reach a junction with a wide fire road. Bear right, go a short distance and then head left on a single-track trail leading deeper into the woods. You will have to negotiate a few  creek crossings, some of which may be tricky if water levels are high. Adding to the challenge are several fallen trees, the result of the Foothill Fire of 2004 and other blazes. Overall though the navigation and terrain aren’t too difficult and after 0.4 miles, you find yourself at the base of the waterfall.

The lower tier which is about 10 feet can be climbed fairly easily for those with experience, assuming that the water level isn’t high enough to present a hazard. The upper tier is about 20 feet tall and pours down into a shallow pool. Whether you observe the waterfall from the bottom or the middle, it’s an attractive, peaceful spot, only a few miles from civilization but virtually isolated.

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:45 – Elsmere Canyon waterfall

There are more waterfalls beyond this one that can be reached by climbers who possess the necessary equipment and knowledge, but for hikers who don’t want to risk becoming part of the conversation about what steps managing agencies should take to regulate open spaces, this is the turnaround point. On the way back, if it’s a cool day and you’re looking for a little more of a workout, consider taking the Elsmere Canyon Loop instead of the Creek Trail, adding 0.2 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain. It lacks the serenity of the Creek Trail but does provide some nice views of the Santa Clarita Valley, including the distant Sierra Pelona range.

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.

Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

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View of San Vicente Reservoir, San Diego, CA from the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

San Vicente Reservoir from the Oak Oasis Preserve

Oak trees in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

      • Location: Lakeside, east of San Diego. From the north end of the freeway portion of Highway 67, take a right on Mapleview, go 0.3 miles and turn left on Ashwood St. Follow Ashwood for a total of 4.3 miles (it becomes Wildcat Canyon Road) and turn left into the signed Oak Oasis County Park lot. The road to the park is narrow so observe the 10 miles per hour speed limit. From Ramona, take San Vicente Road southeast to Barona Road. Turn right and follow Barona Road, which becomes Wildcat Canyon Road, 9 miles to the park. The park will be on the right side of the road.
      • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
      • Distance: 2.7 miles
      • Elevation gain: 300 feet
      • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round (8am-4:30pm daily)
      • USGS topo map: San Vicente Reservoir
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here
      • Rating: 6

Located just beyond the San Diego suburban fringe, Oak Oasis (known too as Oakoasis) County Park is an attractive 230-acre parcel of open space that offers panoramic views of the San Vicente Reservoir and Iron Mountain, plus interesting geology, meadows, glimpses into the history of the land and yes, oaks.

Trail head, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve

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

The 2003 Cedar Fire was perhaps the most dramatic episode in the area’s history, claiming the old Minshall House. Fortunately the park is showing signs of recovery from the fire. The park is an enjoyable place for simply wandering without a specific route or destination; it’s a stop on the San Diego Trans-County Trail, which comes up from the west and continues east toward El Capitan. There are several possible routes to take and the 2.7-mile loop described here offers a nice sampling of the area’s scenery.

Trail junction, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:07 – Junction with the county trail (times are approximate)

From the trail head at the north side of the parking lot, descend past the information board to the trans-country trail. Turn left and follow it through chaparral to a Y-junction. Bear left and follow the trans-country trail as it climbs briefly to a ridge, providing some nice views, before dipping back into the oak-shaded canyon.

Oak woodland, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:20 – Rejoining the Oak Oasis Loop

Here, bear left and follow the canyon, staying straight at another turnoff. A plaque describes the unfortunate history of the Minshall House, which once stood at that location. Shortly after the plaque, a spur leads to an overlook between two trees.

You leave the woodland and come back into the open, with the San Vicente Reservoir spread out ahead. Bear right as the country trail heads left and begin a moderate climb, rejoining the trail from below. A short spur leads to another overlook where you get an even better view of the reservoir and Iron Mountain dominating to the north.

Informational plaque, Minshall House site, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

0:23 – Sign at the former Minshall House site

More climbing past some jumbled granite boulders brings you to a small, oak-lined meadow and the half-way point of the loop. The trail then descends into a chaparral-lined canyon, passes through a field and some private houses and re-enters the oak woodland. Bear left at the next junction and make a brief climb to rejoin the trans-country trail, completing the loop. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Meadow in the Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakesisde, CA

0:43 – Meadow; half way point

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.

Oak woodlands, Oak Oasis Open Space Preserve, Lakeside, CA

1:00 – Back into the woodlands

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)

Rock Mountain (Fallbrook)

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View from Rock Mountain, north San Diego County

Morning sun near the top of Rock Mountain

Looking north from Rock Mountain

Looking north from Rock Mountain

Rock Mountain (Fallbrook)

    • Location: North San Diego County, between Fallbrook and Temecula. From the Inland Empire, take I-15 to Rancho California Road in Temecula. Turn right and go 2.5 miles to Avenida del Oro. Turn left and go 0.3 miles to Sandia Creek Road. Turn left and go 7.3 miles and look for a small dirt parking lot and the trail head on the right (De Luz Heights Road = too far.) From the south, take I-15 to Old Highway 395. Turn left and go 0.2 miles to East Mission Road. Go 4.9 miles and turn right on Pico, which becomes De Luz and then Sandia Creek. In 4.2 miles, just after De Luz Heights Road, look for the trail head on the right. From Highway 76, 12.6 miles east of Oceanside, head north on South Mission Road. In 6.7 miles, turn right on West Mission Road and then almost immediately turn left on Pico. Follow it 4.2 miles to the trail head as described above.
    • Agency:  Fallbrook Land Conservancy
    • Distance: 1.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 550 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: October – May
    • Recomended gear: sun hat
    • USGS topo map: Temecula
    • More information:  All Trails page here; Flickr photo gallery here
    • Rating: 5
0:00 - Rock Mountain Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This short but steep hike yields some panoramic views of north San Diego County and southern Riverside County. The hike sadly loses points due to graffiti (particularly on the summit) and trash, but the scramble up the rocks to the summit is still worth doing if you’re in the area. Expect to use your hands as much as your feet and allow extra time for the descent.

Following the trail up Rock Mountain, San Diego County

0:09 – Hard left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the signed trail up a wooden staircase. The first half of the hike is fairly easy going as the trail winds around the base of Rock Mountain. There are no shade trees but the slope faces west, so if you get off to an early start the sun will be blocked out.

At about a quarter mile, stay straight as a trail branches off to the right. Soon after, take a hairpin left turn and head west, soon arriving at a clearing (about 0.4 miles from the start) where an abandoned car sits.

Steep stretch of trail on Rock Mountain

0:12 – Steep climb after the abandoned car

From here, the hike becomes challenging. Head straight, climbing up a loose, rutted slope and continue your steep ascent for another tenth of a mile. The trail, sometimes faint but usually pretty obvious, appears to dip downhill and fade out at this point. Look for a use trail on the right, heading straight up through the sage scrub, soon arriving at a saddle where you get some striking aerial views of the landscape below. You also see the summit of Rock Mountain on your left.

Climbing through the brush on the way to Rock Mountain's summit

0:16 – Follow the “use trail” through the brush, about half a mile from the start

Head left and follow a thin ridge toward the peak and then pick your way up over the boulders to the summit. Your exact route may vary but you will generally stay on the south side of the peak, keeping it on your left.

View of Rock Mountain, San Diego County

0:20 – Rock Mountain’s summit, as seen from the saddle

On the top, you can sit on any of the jumble of boulders and enjoy an excellent view which on clear days may include the Palomar Mountains and the ocean. You also get a bird’s eye look at Sandia Creek Road, winding its way through the hills below. When you’re done enjoying the view head back down, respecting the steep and loose terrain on the descent.

View from just below the summit of Rock Mountain

0:22 – Looking south from the ridge below the summit

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.

Aerial view of the Fallbrook, CA area from Rock Mountain

0:25 – Looking down from the summit of Rock Mountain

Randall Henderson Trail

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San Jacinto Mountains at dusk on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

Dusk on the Randall Henderson Trail

Ocotillo cacti on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

Ocotillo on the Randall Henderson Trail

Randall Henderson Trail

  • Location: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitors’ Center, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. From I-10, take Monterey Avenue south for 9.7 miles (Monterey Avenue becomes Highway 74). The Visitors’ Center will be on the left, 3.8 miles after the junction with Highway 111. If you are coming from the west on Highway 74, the Visitors’ Center is 20.4 miles east of the junction with Highway 371 and 33 miles east of Highway 243.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer. The Visitors’ Center and parking lot is open from 9am to 4pm, Monday-Friday. If you are visiting outside of those hours, park at the Art Smith Trailhead on the opposite side of Highway 74.
  • USGS topo maps: “Rancho Mirage”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: here; Trail descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 5

This short loop is one of the few trails in the Palm Springs area that can be done year-round. It also features several types of desert flora including cat’s claw acacia, ocotillo, cholla, beaver trail and barrel cacti.

Randall Henderson Trail Head, Palm Desert, CA

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

If you start at the Art Smith Trailhead, carefully cross Highway 74 (there’s no signal or crosswalk but traffic is usually fairly light) and walk into the monument parking lot. The signed Randall Henderson Trail departs from the lot’s southeastern corner. Follow it a short distance to a fork; the start of the loop.

The loop can be hiked in either direction. The right fork follows an exposed ridge; a good choice if you are starting early in the morning or if the weather is cool.  If the sun is up and the temperature is warm, take the left fork, which heads up a wash, providing up-close looks at some intriguing geology. The narrow-walled canyon provides some shade. Other than some minimal rock-scrambling, the terrain is pretty straightforward. The trail is generally marked well and while some other washes might at first seem a little confusing, the main route never strays outside of the canyon.

Junction on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:02 – Start of the loop (times are approximate)

After about half a mile on either trail, a short connector joins them. Both trails continue up canyon, reaching a T-junction just under a mile from the start. Here, you can shorten the hike by turning right if you came up the wash or left if you came along the ridge, and following the other route back to the trail head. However, if you want to extend the hike, head in the opposite direction (turn right if you came  along the ridge or left if from the wash). You reach a dirt road, where you’ll make a hairpin turn and head across the top of the canyon, enjoying some nice views of the eastern end of the San Jacintos. This stretch of road is 0.4 miles long and connects the two ends of the trail. Follow the single-track back into the canyon, either retracing the route you did earlier or taking the opposite one for variety.

Junction on the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:18 – Junction at the top of the canyon; complete the loop by turning around or extend it by heading toward the dirt road

In case you were wondering, Randall Henderson (1888-1970) was a prominent member of the desert community, whose work as a writer and publisher helped build interest in the Coachella Valley. For more information on Henderson, click here.

Sunset from the Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, CA

0:32 – Sunset as seen from the dirt road at the top of the loop

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

Sonome Canyon Loop (Chino Hills State Park)

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View of the Chino Hills from the Sonome Canyon Loop

View of Gilman Peak and Carbon Canyon from Olinda Drive

Two oak trees, Chino HIlls Stat Park

Oaks on the La Vida Trail, Chino Hills State park

Sonome Canyon Loop (Chino Hills State Park)

    • Location: Olinda Village, Carbon Canyon, northeast Orange County. From the 57 Freeway, take the Lambert Rd. exit and head east for 4.4 miles (Lambert becomes Carbon Canyon Road/Highway 142 en route). Turn left on Olinda Place and almost immediately take another left onto Lilac Lane. Follow Lilac half a mile to its end. From Chino Hills Parkway, take Highway 142/Carbon Canyon Road southwest for 5.8 miles and turn right on Olinda Place, then immediately left onto Lilac.
    • Agency: Chino Hills State Park
    • Distance: 4.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 950 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season: October – May; trail is open from 8am to 5 pm
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
    • USGS topo map: Yorba Linda
    • More information: Trail map here; Chino Hills Park homepage here
    • Rating: 5
Start of the Sonome Canyon Loop, Chino Hills State Park

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Lilac Lane (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop explores the lightly visited corner of Chino Hills State Park that sits north of Carbon Canyon Road. Some hikers might be turned off by the fact that a substantial portion of the hike is on paved streets and that the trails have little shade, but the loop provides a good workout conveniently located to north Orange County and the Inland Empire, with panoramic views of the area. With the Bane Canyon entrance to the park closed until April of 2015, this hike makes a nice alternative, especially for hikers who feel as if they’ve run out of trails to explore in this area.

Steep ascent on the Sonome Canyon Loop, Chino HIlls State Park

0:09 – Steep ascent under the telephone lines (times are approximate)

The hike can be done in either direction and with over a mile of the route using residential streets, there are several possible starting points. Hiking clockwise from the end of Lilac Lane as described here is advantageous in that it breaks up the longest ascent of the hike and bypasses the thankless task of a steep, exposed climb on paved Olinda Drive. If you are hiking in the late afternoon, you can plan to time your hike so that you are off park lands by 5pm, finishing the route on the residential streets.

La Vida Trail, Chino HIlls State Park

0:21 – Bear right at the top of the ridge onto the La Vida Trail

From the end of Lilac, follow the trail into the park. The route is signed as the Lilac Trail on the park map but as the Sonome Canyon Trail at the park entrance. It ascends steadily, making a sharp right turn at about 0.3 miles and climbing a ridge beneath telephone lines. Make your way uphill, following either the winding path or the steep fire break. At about 0.7 miles from the start (450 vertical feet), the trail levels out. Look for a dirt path branching off to the right (La Vida Trail on the map) and take it.

Sonome Canyon, Chino HIlls State Park

0:49 – Entering Sonome Canyon

You now begin a mile-long descent into Sonome Canyon, a tributary of Carbon Canyon. This stretch of the trail is enjoyably quiet, you are on the north side of the ridge which blocks out much of the sounds of civilization. If visibility is good, you can see the San Gabriels poking above the opposite side of the canyon.

Oaks in Sonome Canyon, Chino Hills State Park

0:53 – Oaks in Sonome Canyon, shortly before the big ascent

At 1.7 miles, you reach the bottom of Sonome Canyon. The trail stays level until the two mile mark, when it makes a hairpin right turn and begins a steady ascent to another ridge (2.5 miles). Here, you reach a T-junction with paved Olinda Drive, where can enjoy a panoramic view to the south including the Chino Hills, Santa Ana Mountains and Orange County’s coastal plain.

View from Olinda Drive, Chino HIlls State Park

1:10 – Looking east from Olinda Drive after climbing out of the canyon

Head downhill on Olinda Drive which is open only to service vehicles, enjoying an aerial perspective on Carbon Canyon. After 0.6 miles, the road leaves the park and becomes residential. It continues its steep descent for another half mile before reaching a junction with Olinda Place, by the fire station. Turn right, go a short distance on Olinda and turn right again on Lilac. Follow it uphill, gradually gaining 100 feet of elevation on the way back to your starting point.

Brea Fire Station, Olinda

1:35 – Brea Fire Station (turn right onto Olinda Place)

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.