Arch Rock Nature Trail (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

Arch Rock

Arch Rock Nature Trail (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: White Tank Campground, Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62 in Twentynine Palms (43 miles east of I-10; 21 miles east of Yucca Valley) take Utah Trail south into the park. Drive a total of 8.6 miles, past the entrance booth, and turn left on Pinto Basin Road. Go 2.7 miles to the White Tank Campground on the left. The nature trail begins next to camp site 9. Parking is available opposite the camp site against a small rock formation. Park admission is $15 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or $30 for an annual pass. The inter-agency America the Beautiful Pass ($80 per year) is accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 0.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 50 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 15 minutes
  • Best season:  October – April
  • USGS topo map: “Malapai Hill”
  • Recommended guidebook: Best Easy Day Hikes Joshua Tree National Park
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here (includes descriptions of other nearby trails)
  • Rating: 7
Geology at the White Tank Campground, start of the Arch Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

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

Brief as it is, the Arch Rock Nature Trail is a Joshua Tree essential, at least if you find yourself in this area of the park. The arch and the other boulders in the area are examples of monzogranite: molten liquid pushed from the earth’s core, cooled by the rocks closer to the surface. Centuries of wind and a formerly moister climate has helped carve the rocks into interesting shapes, notably the arch.

Round granite boulders, Arch Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:02 – Round rocks shortly after the split (times are approximate)

From the the parking area, look for the sign indicating the trail and follow it through the various rock formations. Soon you come to a split (the start of the loop). You can hike it in either direction, but by going clockwise you can save the dramatic arch for last.

The trail dips in between several boulders as interpretive signs describe the scenery. Before long you reach the arch. A short, easy scramble across the rocks will being you right up to it; it stands about 10 feet tall and stretches about 30 feet wide.

Field of granite boulders, Arch Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:04 – Following the trail across a boulder field

After enjoying the scenery, climb back down to the trail, soon completing the loop. From there, retrace your steps back to the campground.

Under Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

0:10 – Under Arch Rock

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 Arch Rock Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:14 – Heading back to White Tank Campground

Butterfly Valley (Irvine Open Space Preserve)

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Butterfly Valley, Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

Butterfly Valley, Irvine Open Space Preserve

Oaks in Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

Oaks on the East Fork Trail, Irvine Open Space Preserve

Butterfly Valley (Irvine Open Space Preserve)

  • Location: 6400 Shady Canyon Drive, Irvine.  From I-405, take the Culver Drive exit, go south (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from the south) for 2.6 miles and turn left on Shady Canyon Drive.  Go 1.6 miles and turn into the lot.  As mentioned below, this hike is available only by (free) online registration on days specified by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.
  • Agency: Irvine Ranch Conservancy
  • Distance: 8.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, steepness, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  October – May; availability of days and times determined by Irvine Ranch Conservancy
  • USGS topo map: Tustin; Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Area trail map here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head in the Cattle Ranch section of Bommer Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head in the Cattle Ranch section of Bommer Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The lightly traveled Butterfly Valley Trail is located in the interior of the Irvine Open Space Preserve. As of this writing, none of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s guided hikes visit the Butterfly Valley Trail, making it available to hikers only on the park’s Wilderness Access days (usually the third Saturday of each month). The U-shaped hike described here offers a considerable workout with a variety of scenery. While the first half of the hike tends to be fairly crowded, you’re likely to have less company during the latter half on the Shady Oaks and Butterfly Valley Trails.

East Fork Trail, Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

0:05 – Start of the East Fork Trail (times are approximate)

Try to get an early a start as possible. Wilderness Access Days are from 8am to 2pm and while itinerant hikers may only need 3 or 3 1/2 hours, those with families or who want to enjoy a more leisurely pace should allow 4 or 4 1/2 hours. The return features a long, steady ascent on largely exposed terrain and the area can get quite hot during the summer.

From the Cattle Ranch area, follow Bommer Canyon Road southeast to a junction. Turn left on a spur signed “To East Fork” which brings you to that trail (0.2 miles.) The East Fork Trail heads through a pleasant green meadow, passing a sandstone cave (0.5 miles). It then ascends into a pleasant grove of oaks which unfortunately represents one of the few bits of shade on the route. Passing the oaks, you begin the main ascent, steeply climbing to a junction with the Hogsback and Ridge Route Trails (1.5 miles.) As you grind up the hill, your efforts are rewarded with panoramic views to the north and at the top of the ridge, you can rest up and enjoy a great look at Old Saddleback.

Sandstone caves, Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

0:15 – Sandstone caves on the East Fork Trail

Continue southeast on the Hogsback Trail, descending 0.6 miles to junction with the Upper Laurel Canyon Trail trail coming from Laguna Coast Wilderness Park (part of the 7-mile Bommer/Laguna Coast hike offered by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy). Stay straight and descend another 0.4 miles to a 4-way junction (2.5 miles from the start). To the right is the route to Camarillo Canyon; straight is the Serrano Ridge Trail (both part of a loop described here). To get to Butterfly Valley, however, turn left onto the Shady Oaks Trail.

Santiago Peak seen from Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

0:40 – Santiago Peak as seen from the top of the Hogsback Trail

Sadly, the Shady Oaks Trail offers little in the way of shade, although depending on the time of day and season, the walls of the canyon may block out the sun. The trail levels out, passes the Bobcat Spur Trail and then reaches another 4-way junction (3.5 miles). On the right, notice a trio of sandstone monoliths with small caves before continuing straight onto the Butterfly Valley Trail.

Shady Oaks Trail, Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

1:10 – Descending the Shady Oaks Trail

Though overhead power lines are hard to ignore, the Butterfly Valley Trail offers a virtually level stroll through an attractive meadow bordered by oaks, sycamores, green hills and sandstone outcrops. A pair of particularly attractive sycamores offer some nice shade (4.1 miles); this is a good turnaround point, although the trail does continue for another 0.2 miles before reaching an unceremonious end at a metal gate.

If you’re disappointed that there are no options for making the hike into a loop and that you have to return by the same route, consider that according to local rumor that rattlesnakes found on the Shady Canyon Golf Course are deposited into the area beyond the end of the Butterfly Valley Trail.

Sandstone outcrops, Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

1:22 – Sandstone outcrops at the junction with the Butterfly Valley Trail

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

Butterfly Valley Trail, Irvine Open Space Preserve, Orange County, CA

1:45 – Looking back from the end of the Butterfly Valley Trail

Wildwood Canyon (Santa Clarita)

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Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Panoramic view from the Highland Loop Trail

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

Oak grove on the Wildwood Loop Trail

Wildwood Canyon (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita. From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit and head west (left if you’re coming from L.A.; right if from Palmdale). Follow Newhall Ave. a total of 1.7 miles. Note that you will need to stay in the left lane to stay on Newhall when it intersects with Railroad Avenue. Past the William Hart Museum, follow Newhall through the rotary and then turn left on Market. Go 0.6 miles and turn left on Cross. Go 0.3 miles to Haskell Vista Lane and turn right. The signed trail head is just past the last house, where the street makes a hairpin right turn and becomes a private way. Park where available, noting posted restrictions.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 350 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo map: Newhall
        • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
        • More information: here; Yelp page here
        • Rating: 6
Wildwood Canyon Park trail head, Santa Clarita, CA

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

Not to be confused with Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks, Santa Clarita’s Wildwood Canyon Park (also known as Wildwood Canyon Open Space) is a 95-acre open space nestled between the 5 and 14 Freeways. Compared to Santa Clarita’s other nature parks, Wildwood feels more like wilderness, in part due to the variety of plant life (oaks, manzanitas, chaparral and more) and also due to the somewhat confusing network of official and unofficial trails and lack of signage distinguishing the two. The good news is that due to the park’s proximity to civilization and relatively small size it’s hard to get too seriously lost here and it’s a fun place to wander around without any specific agenda.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:15 – View from the first junction; head straight down into the canyon (times are approximate)

Those who do want to follow an exact route however will enjoy the 3-mile hike described below, which circles the perimeter of the park on some of the more clearly, better maintained trails. From the trail head on Haskell Vista Lane, follow the path as it climbs uphill, making a series of switchbacks before gaining a ridge at half a mile where a panoramic view of the canyon awaits. It descends briefly to a junction with the Cross Motorway. Stay straight and descend into the canyon, reaching another intersection at 0.8 miles. This is the start of the loop which can be done in either direction. If it’s warm or hot, consider going counter-clockwise as described here, allowing you to save an enjoyable shaded stretch for last.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:20 – Start of the loop portion of the hike

Continue straight and begin a steep ascent to a clearing with a trash can and a makeshift fire pit. As a detour, you can follow a use trail on the left down into an attractive wooded canyon but watch out for poison oak. The trail continues uphill, now marked as the Highland Trail on the official park map. It skirts the upper rim of the canyon, crossing two small wooden footbridges. Shortly after the second, you reach the highest spot on the route, signed as a vista point on the map, although there are no benches, shade structures or other facilities here. Still you can enjoy a nice view of the Santa Clarita Valley and the Sierra Pelona mountains beyond.

Highland Loop Trail, Wildwood Canyon, Santa Clarita, CA

0:24 – Highland Loop steeply ascending past the picnic area

The trail continues past a junction with a spur that drops back into the canyon. Stay straight and begin descending, passing by a large red water tank and making a switchback. To the east, you can see the end of the San Gabriel Mountains towering beyond the buildings of the nearby Hart Museum and Ranch.

Water tank in Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:47 – Passing the water tank on the descent

At 2 miles, you reach the end of the Highland Loop Trail. Turn left and follow the trail into a grove of oaks. At dusk, this area is particularly attractive; but for the presence of some graffiti (and bugs during the evening) it would match up favorably against the best woodlands of the Santa Monica Mountains. Ignore a trail branching off to the left before exiting the woods and returning to the junction, completing the loop. Turn right and retrace your steps up to the other junction and back down the hill to Haskell View.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

1:05 – Left turn on the Wildwood Loop Trail, heading into the woods

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.

Dagobah Swamp

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Yoda's hut in the Dagobah Swamp

Yoda’s hut in the Dagobah Swamp

Image: LA Weekly

Dagobah Swamp

  • Location: Outer rim territories. Even from the relatively close planet of Hoth, allow at least a week for travel by X-wing fighter. Parking is $5 per vehicle on weekdays; $7 on weekends and holidays.
  • Agency: Confederacy of Independent Systems/Sluis Sector
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: Year-round but hot during the summer
  • Recommended gear: Light sabre
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 6

The Dagobah Swamp is best known as the home of Jedi master Yoda and as the site of Luke Skywalker’s training in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” It also makes for a short but challenging hike. While the isolation of the planet appeals to many hikers (you won’t have to share the route with mountain bikers or equestrians because since Yoda’s death, no intelligent life remains in the swamp) some may find it difficult to traverse the uneven terrain of the wetlands. Hikers sensitive to the Dark Side of the Force might want to exercise caution as well.

Given the lack of any established landing area near the swamp, the exact location of your touchdown may vary. Head into the swamp, keeping an eye out for vine snakes and sleens. Soon you’ll notice Yoda’s hut in the distance; following his death in 4 ABY, the site while still under jurisdiction of the Sluis Sector has been maintained by volunteers from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

After a mile, you reach the end of the swamp where you can relax in Yoda’s hut before retracing your steps. If you still have energy you can continue to nearby Mt. Yoda, a four-mile round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

San Dimas Canyon Loop

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Panoramic view above San Dimas Canyon, San Gabriel Valley, CA

Looking southwest from the vista point

Dusk in San Dimas Canyon, Los Angeles County, CA

Dusk on the Poison Oak Trail, San Dimas Canyon

San Dimas Canyon Loop

  • Location: Horsethief Canyon Park, San Dimas. From points east, take the 210 Freeway to the Foothill exit. Turn right on Foothill Blvd. and go 0.4 miles to San Dimas Canyon Road. Turn right and go 0.3 miles and bear left on Sycamore Canyon Road. Go 0.2 miles and turn left onto Horsethief Canyon Road and follow it to the parking area. From the west, take the 210 Freeway take the San Dimas Avenue exit. Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Foothill Blvd. Turn right and go 0.8 miles to San Dimas Canyon Road. Turn left and follow San Dimas Canyon Rd. for 0.3 miles and bear left on Sycamore Canyon Road. Go 0.2 miles, turn left on Horsethief Canyon Road and follow it to the parking area.
  • Agency: L.A. County Parks & Recreation; City of San Dimas
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 550 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Glendora
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Trip description (hiking clockwise with the steep climb first) here; San Dimas Canyon Park page here; Horsethief Canyon Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6
Horsethief Canyon Park

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

This loop, which visits L.A. County’s San Dimas Canyon Park and the City of San Dimas’s Horsethief Canyon Park, offers a pleasant variety of scenery and a surprisingly good workout, conveniently located to the residential neighborhoods of the San Gabriel Valley and western end of the Inland Empire. Hikers who think they’ve seen it all when it comes to this area might want to give this loop a look.

Trail above Horsetheif Canyon Park, San Dimas, CA

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

From Horsethief Canyon Park, follow the main fire road past a gazebo, playing field and dirt horse track. The trail bends to the right and reaches a Y-fork. Take the left path, following it past a lone willow tree to an intersection a quarter mile from the start; this is the beginning of the loop. The straight route is your return. Take a hairpin right turn and follow the trail through a pleasant grove of oaks, dropping into San Dimas Canyon near a group of stables (0.5 miles.)

Hiking trail above Horsethief Canyon Park, San Dimas, CA

0:10 – Hard right at the junction, beginning the loop portion of the hike

Here, take a hard left and follow the trail gradually uphill, passing by more oaks, paralleling Sycamore Canyon Road. Don’t be deterred by a yellow “Trail Closed” sign; according to local hikers and equestrians who frequent the area, this warning exists simply for liability purposes as you are now on land not under the jurisdiction of either park. As of this writing the trail appears to be fairly well maintained and regularly traveled.

At 0.9 miles, you reach an attractive clearing where you can rest at a picnic table; an abandoned stone chimney pokes up from the grass. From here, pick up the Poison Oak Trail (don’t worry, there are only trace amounts of the hated plant) which heads uphill through a narrow, wooded tributary of San Dimas Canyon, reaching a fire road at 1.2 miles.

Woodlands, San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:15 – Hard left at the next junction, heading into the woods

From here, turn left and follow the road uphill, enjoying a nice view of Mt. Wilson and the western San Gabriels through the trees. At 1.5 miles, you reach a clearing with picnic tables and outstanding vistas including the Ontario/Cucamonga Ridge, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, the Santa Anas, downtown Los Angeles and a nearly aerial view of the neighborhoods below.

Stone ruins in San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:25 – Abandoned chimney at the picnic area

After enjoying the panorama, look for a steep trail descending past a pair of white posts. Loose in some spots, the trail switchbacks expeditiously back down to the junction, completing the loop. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking lot at Horsethief Canyon Park.

Fire road above San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:35 – Left turn on the fire road

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

Vista point above San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:55 – Starting the steep descent from the vista point back to the junction

Deep Creek Hot Springs via Bowen Ranch

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Deep Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

Upstream view of Deep Creek from the trail

Spring wildflowers above Deep Creek, San Bernardino Mountains, Lake Arrowhead, CA

Spring wildflowers above Deep Creek

Deep Creek Hot Springs via Bowen Ranch

      • Location: Northwest San Bernardino Mountains between Hesperia and Lake Arrowhead. From I-15 in Hesperia, head east on Main Street for 7.2 miles. Just as the road bends south, take a right on Rock Springs Road, which becomes Roundup Way after 2.8 miles. Continue for 4.3 miles on Roundup Way (the last mile or so is dirt) and turn right on Bowen Ranch Road. Follow Bowen Ranch Road for a total of 5.4 miles to the signed entrance to the ranch (stay right at the junctions with Coxey Creek Road and Oak Hill Road). The road is overall in decent condition but there are a few rough spots; high clearance and 4WD vehicles are best but not required. After paying a $5 per person fee (or $10 per person for overnight use) continue 0.7 miles to the trail head. As of this writing, the last few hundred yards of the road are in rough condition so if you’re uncomfortable taking your car over it, you can park in a small turnout shortly before and walk the rest of the way. Trail head coordinates are N 34 21.510, W 117 09.881.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 3.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: September – May
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: Hiking polessun hat;  sunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
      • More information: Deep Creek Hot Springs information here; trip description here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here; photos and videos of the hike here
      • Rating: 7
Deep Creek Hot Springs Trail Head, Bowen Ranch, San Bernardino County, CA

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

The most popular way to reach Deep Creek Hot Springs is from the north, starting at Bowen Ranch. This route is also the easiest, covering the shortest distance and the least amount of elevation gain compared to the routes via the Pacific Crest Trail and Bradford Ridge. It is also arguably the most scenically interesting, providing dramatic views of the creek on the descent. There are a few caveats, though: the descent is steep and exposed, often over somewhat loose terrain. Temperatures in the area can be notoriously hot, making for difficult ascents from the springs for those who don’t plan accordingly. Getting to the trail head is somewhat tricky, requiring almost seven miles of driving on dirt roads. This is also the only route that requires payment; $5 per person (not per vehicle). Lastly, unlike the other two approaches, this one requires fording Deep Creek to visit the hot springs. If the water levels are low, the creek is fairly easy to traverse but caution should still be exercised. Despite these potential challenges, this is an enjoyable hike to a unique destination; its popularity is understandable.

San Bernardino Mountains panorama en route to Deep Creek Hot Springs

0:08 – Top of the ridge, before the first steep descent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the trail south. You soon reach an overlook with a pair of interpretive plaques that sadly have been vandalized beyond the point of recognition. There is, however, an impressive view of the eastern San Gabriel summits (Baldy, Telegraph, etc) and of the western San Bernardino Mountains.

At 0.3 miles, the trail drops sharply, making a steep descent over loose terrain into a wash. At the bottom, bear right and follow the trail to a dirt road. Turn left, walk a few hundred feet to an alternate trail head (0.5 miles from the start) and begin hiking the “official” Deep Creek trail, signed 3W02.

Trail to Deep Creek Hot Springs, San Bernardino National Forest

0:16 – Bear right on the trail after leaving the dirt road

You follow the trail through a canyon, getting a glimpse of Deep Creek’s gorge at about 0.8 miles. Vegetation includes mesquite, Manzanita and cat’s claw. At 1.1 miles, you get your first view of the creek itself, cutting its serpentine path through the mountains. From here, the trail begins another steep descent, making a switchback that provides an impressive view to the west and finally dropping to the sandy shores of Deep Creek (1.8 miles.) The year-round stream supports a diverse array of plants, including cottonwoods, sycamores and even a lone pine.

Panoramic view of Deep Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

0:26 – Looking down at the gorge

If you are nervous about crossing the creek, this can be a nice spot to sit and enjoy the scenery before heading back. Adventurous hikers can wade through water that is likely to be at least knee-high to the pools on the south side of the creek.

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.

Deep Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

0:45 – View of Deep Creek from the north side

Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

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View of Hot Springs Mountain, highest point in San Diego County from the Pacific Crest Trail near Warner Springs, CA

View of Hot Springs Mountain during the first mile of the hike

Crossing Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA

Agua Caliente Creek

Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Highway 79 near Warner Springs, northeast San Diego County. The starting point is a dirt lot on the south side of the road. The location is 36.3 miles east of I-15, 1.3 miles west of Warner Springs and 16.3 miles northwest of Santa Ysabel. Trail head coordinates are N 33 17.296, W 116 39.379.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 9.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Warner Springs; Hot Springs Mountain
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Day and Section Hikes Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California
  • More information: Trip description here; Description from a through-hiker’s blog here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Starting point for the hike to Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, Highway 79, Warner Springs, CA

0:00 – The parking area;  P.C.T. decal points across the street (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is arguably the most popular day hike out of Warner Springs, with the possible exception of Eagle Rock. It follows a pleasant stretch of the P.C.T. as it heads north from Highway 79, paralleling Agua Caliente Creek, which usually flows year round. While the scenery isn’t quite as dramatic as it is on the way to Eagle Rock, this section of the Pacific Crest Trail still offers a nice cross-section of the landscape around Warner Springs. The 9.4-mile round trip described here is a good, moderate day hike, but it can easily be shortened or extended.

Oak woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

0:30 – Entering the woodlands (times are approximate)

From the turnout, carefully cross Highway 79 and follow a dirt road past a fence. You soon meet up with the signed Pacific Crest Trail. Bear left onto the P.C.T. and follow it through an attractive, oak-dotted field. Hot Springs Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County, can be seen to the northeast.

View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente Creek, San Diego County, CA

0:51 – View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains after climbing out of the canyon

At about 1.1 miles, you enter the woods. You pass through private land on an easement, soon crossing Agua Caliente Creek for the first of several times. The trail then climbs above the creek, providing panoramic views to the west and of the Bucksnort Mountains to the north. Vegetation along this stretch includes beavertail and cholla cacti, yuccas, manzanita and oak. You reach a saddle (3 miles) where the trail descends back to the creek (3.3 miles) passing by a makeshift trail camp.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

1:22 – Trail camp near where the P.C.T. crosses the creek

Keeping an eye out for poison oak, you cross the creek twice, reach another primitive camp and continue deeper into the canyon. A few pines can be seen sticking up from the oaks and sycamores. The trail briefly climbs the west side of the creek before dropping back down. At about 4 miles, you pass a wall of granite. At 4.6 miles, the trail enters a sloping meadow and soon after, you reach another trail camp; a perfect spot to relax beneath the oaks, accompanied by the sound of the trickling stream.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

1:32 – Second trail camp by the creek

Beyond, the trail leaves the canyon and continues uphill toward Lost Valley Road and Combs Peak. For day hikers, this is the recommended turnaround point. The coordinates are N 33 19.290, W 116 37.356.

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.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

2:05 – Trail camp at the turnaround point