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”

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

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Looking east from Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

Strawberry Peak with Mt. Baldy distant from Josephine Peak

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

    • Location: Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 10 miles to a dirt turnout by mile marker 34.55 (shortly beyond the Switzer parking area, about a mile past Clear Creek Junction). The trail head is unsigned. While no signs indicate that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required and while the new policies don’t require a pass at unimproved trail heads such as this one, if you want to be safe and purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,050 feet
    • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here; description of the route via the fire road here
    • Rating: 8
Colby Canyon Trail Head, Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains, CA

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

Popular Josephine Peak (elevation 5,558) was one of the last Angeles National Forest destinations to reopen following the Station Fire. It is now possible to legally hike to the summit, either via the Josephine Peak Fire Road or, as described here, from Colby Canyon. The route via Colby is quite steep but scenically rewarding, with excellent views of Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and a nearly aerial perspective on the canyon. Terrain isn’t too much of an issue, but a few spots are washed out, loose and rocky, requiring your attention on the descent, which will likely be on tired legs. Keep an eye out too for poodle dog bush, common in areas such as this that were recently burned.

Waterfall in Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:03 – Seasonal waterfall in Colby Canyon (times are approximate)

Start hiking on the faint, unsigned (it was burned in the fire) trail at the west side of the turnout. Immediately you are immersed in scenic Colby Canyon, soon passing a seasonal waterfall. You begin climbing out of the canyon, following a ridge over the top of another intermittent waterfall at about 0.4 miles. The trail then clings closely to the side of the ridge, dropping sharply into Colby Canyon, before crossing the stream again and reaching a bench (0.9 miles.)

Aerial perspective of Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:21 – Aerial view of Colby Canyon before the intensive climbing begins

Now the work begins. The trail ascends relentlessly, making switch backs up the exposed south-facing slope before finally reaching Josephine Saddle, just over two miles from the start and almost 1,400 feet higher. Here you can rest and enjoy the reward for your efforts: an excellent view of Big Tujunga Canyon to the northwest and Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and the canyon to the southeast.

With the hardest work behind you, continue west (bear left) on the unsigned Josephine Peak Trail, which is pleasantly flat and shaded by pines. Soon the peak itself comes into view. After an easy 0.6 miles, you join the fire road from Clear Creek Station and begin a moderate ascent. The shaded, north-facing slope is forgiving and progress is quick. You make a pair of long switchbacks and soon find yourself just below the antennas of the summit. The fire road then gives way to a short but steep and somewhat loose single-track leading a few dozen yards to the top.

Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle, Angeles National Forest, California

1:14 – Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle

Although the antenna installation blocks some of the view, the panorama is still impressive. To the east, Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson dominate but you can still see Baldy behind them. No peak in the Angeles west of Josephine is taller, so the views in that direction are the best: the Santa Monica Mountains, downtown L.A., the Verdugos, the Sierra Pelona, and the ocean. If visibility is optimum, San Clemente can be seen as a flat mass behind Catalina; Santa Barbara is visible as a lone bump on the ocean with remote San Nicolas faint behind it and the peaks of Santa Cruz Island can be seen west of the Santa Monicas. After enjoying the vista, return via the same route, or if you’ve arranged for a car shuttle at Clear Creek, you can descend via the fire road.

1:33 - View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

1:33 – View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

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 of the ocean from the summit of Josephine Peak, Angeles Nationanl Forest, California

2:11 – Ocean view from the summit

Lost Horse Loop (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Eastern panorama from the Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Looking east from the Lost Horse Mine Loop

Desert landscape, Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees on the Lost Horse Mine Trail

Lost Horse Loop  (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62 in the town of Joshua Tree (about 6 miles east of Yucca Valley, 27 miles east of I-10 and about 15 miles west of Twentynine Palms) take Park Blvd. (signed for the park) south, past the entrance booth, and drive for a total of 15.6 miles. Bear right onto Keys View Road, drive 2.4 miles and turn left onto Lost Horse Mine Road. Follow the dirt road (should be easily passable for all vehicles) a mile to its end at the Lost Horse Loop trail head. The park entrance fee is $15 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or $30 per vehicle for an annual pass. The America the Beautiful inter-agency pass ($80 per year) is also accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season:  October – April
  • USGS topo map: Keys View
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (only to the mine); Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
Lost Horse Trail Head, Joshua Tree National Park

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

The Lost Horse Mine, one of the more successful gold mines in the area, is a popular Joshua Tree attraction. It can be reached with a moderate 4 mile out and back hike, but it’s worth allowing extra time and energy to hike the entire loop trail, adding challenge and scenic variety. Keep in mind however that this area is only open from sunrise to sunset. The trail head sign indicates the distance is 6.2 miles, but it is closer to seven if you make the extra trip to the mine.

Panoramic view of Joshua Tree National Park from the Lost Horse Mine Trail

0:30 – View from a saddle, just over a mile from the start (times are approximate)

The loop can be hike in either direction, but you might want to consider hiking clockwise, which will bring you to the mine more quickly, allowing you to shorten the hike if necessary. From the parking area, follow the signed trail uphill. As you ascend you get good views of San Gorgonio to the west. A mile of moderate climbing brings you to a saddle with a view of Ryan Mountain and it’s surrounding plains. The trail dips briefly, makes a wide semi-circular curve and the mine comes into view on the opposite ridge.

Lost Horse Mine, Joshua Tree National Park

1:00 – Lost Horse Mine

A short spur heads left, leading up a switchback to the Lost Horse Mine. Unfortunately the stamp mill is fenced off but you can still enjoy a panoramic view of the desert and read about the history of the mine, including how it got its name.

Steep descent on the Lost Horse Mine Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:16 – Starting the steep descent

From the mine, retrace your steps back down to the loop trail. Continue climbing to a saddle where you can enjoy an excellent view to the east. Malapai Hill stands above the wide expanse.

Here, the trail drops steeply and dramatically into a wash. Even as you appreciate the panorama, make sure you respect the steep and sometimes loose trail. You pass by two filled in shafts that mark the site of Lang Mine and then the trail reaches a saddle.  A brief descent brings you to a tall cairn with abandoned metal equipment strewn beneath it. This is the former site of Optimist Mine; it is the approximate halfway point (although if you are hiking clockwise you will already have done the majority of the climbing by now).

Geology and sunlight on the Lost Horse Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:24 – Crossing the wash

Continue your moderate ascent to the top of a ridge where you can see the Santa Rosas, San Jacintos and San Bernardinos (about 4 miles from the start). The remainder of the hike is a gradual descent in and out of various washes, passing Joshua trees of many shapes and sizes. The trail is never difficult to follow; the few places where it becomes at all ambiguous are well signed. At about 6.2 miles, keep an eye out for something that may seem like a contradiction of terms: a shade Joshua Tree, whose branches spread out enough to actually provide some shelter.

Optimist Mine, Lost Horse Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:35 – Optimist Mine

At 6.7 miles, just before the dirt road, a side trail branches off to the right. Take it 0.2 miles to the parking lot, completing the loop. If you got off to an early start don’t be surprised if the lot is considerably more packed; on busy days, latecomers may likely have to park farther down on the dirt road.

View of San Jacinto Peak from the Lost Horse Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:46 – View of San Jacinto

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.

Joshua Trees on the Lost Horse Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

2:48 – “Shade” Joshua Tree near the loop’s end

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

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View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, Pasadena, CA

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail

Ocean view from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

Dusk over the ocean from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail

Upper Altadena Crest Trail

  • Location: Staging area on the north side of Loma Alta Drive at the intersection with Dabney St. From I-210, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on Loma Alta Drive and go 0.2 miles to the staging area on the north side of the road, across from Loma Alta Park.
  • Agency: Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy/County of Los Angeles
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June (sunrise to sunset)
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Everytrail report here; LA County Trails page here
  • Rating: 6
Altadena Crest Trail Head, Pasadena, CA

0:00 – Trail head at the Loma Alta Staging Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This northwestern segment of the Altadena Trail connects Loma Alta Drive with Mt. Lowe Road, climbing about 800 vertical feet with a few ups and downs, adding up to a fairly vigorous workout. The trail’s convenient location and panoramic views make it a worthwhile excursion for anyone in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys; it’s not far from downtown L.A. either.

From the staging area, follow the signed trail leading alongside the debris basin. The first few hundred yards might not seem promising but you quickly climb away from civilization, reaching the top of a ridge a quarter mile from the start. From here, you descend to a T-junction. Take a hard right and head into a shallow canyon. Stay straight, ignoring the cut switchback on the left and make your way up to another ridge, taking in some nice views of the San Gabriel Mountains dead ahead.

Fall colors on the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Valley, CA

0:09 – Heading right at the T-junction (times are approximate)

After another brief descent, you begin a steady climb to a Y-junction (0.9 miles from the start). Bear left and continue climbing a quarter mile to reach the paved Chaney Trail. The trail continues on the opposite side of the road and a wooden step makes a nice resting spot before the steep ascent ahead.

View of the mountains from the Altadena Crest Trail, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

0:24 – Bear left at the Y-junction

The trail continues its climb, quite steeply at times and over increasingly loose and washed out terrain. The good news is that for your efforts you are rewarded with views that are wider and wider, as well as an interesting aerial perspective on Cheney Trail. Finally the grade levels out you meet up with a paved road leading a few yards to a junction at a saddle with great views to the south, including the Santa Ana Mountains, Catalina Island and downtown L.A., and Millard Canyon to the north.

This is the turnaround point (1.6 miles from the start), but you can easily extend the hike along the Sunset Ridge Trail or the Mt. Lowe Fire Road if you see fit. As an alternate to the loose, steep trail, you can also descend via Cheney Trail by heading left on the Mt. Lowe Fire Road and following it a short distance.

View of the San Gabriel Valley from the Altadena Crest Trail, California

0:29 – View from the Cheney Trail intersection

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 of the San Gabriel Valley from the top of the Altadena Crest Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:49 – Southeast view from the top

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

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View of Rodriguez Mountain in the Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

View of Rodriguez Mountain on the descent to Hell Creek

Sunset, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

Sunset in Hellhole Canyon

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

  • Location: Inland San Diego County near Valley Center. From San Diego, take I-15 north to E Via Rancho Parkway. Turn right and follow Via Rancho Parkway, which soon becomes Bear Valley Parkway. After 6 miles, turn right on East Valley Parkway and go 1.3 miles. Turn right on Lake Wohlford Road and go 5.9 miles. Turn right on Paradise Mountain Road and go 3.3 miles. Turn right on Los Hermanos Ranch Road and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive (signed for the preserve). Go 0.5 miles to the end of Kiavo Drive and turn left into the parking lot. From the north, take I-15 to Gopher Canyon Road. Turn left, cross the freeway and turn right on Champagne Blvd. Go 0.2 miles and turn left on Old Castle Road. Go 5.5 miles and continue onto Lilac Road for another 3.3 miles. Turn right on Valley Center Road, go 1.2 miles and turn left on Woods Valley Road. At 3.9 miles, Woods Valley Road crosses Lake Wohlford Road and becomes Paradise Mountain Road. Follow it for another 3.3 miles to the intersection with Los Hermanos Ranch Road. Turn right and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive. Follow it half a mile to its end and turn left into the preserve. Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – sunset. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Rodriguez Mountain
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • Recommended gear: sun screen; sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here; Friends of Hellhole Canyon page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

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

How does an attractive wilderness preserve in northern San Diego County get a name like “Hellhole?” One explanation is that in the 1800s, ranchers had a “hell” of a time getting their wagons across the creek, a tributary of the San Luis Rey River. Indeed, history abounds here in the remains of the Escondido Canal which diverted water from the San Luis Rey River to Escondido Creek.

Oaks on the banks of Hell Creek, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:19 – On the banks of Hell Creek (times are approximate)

There are over 13 miles of trails throughout the preserve, making several possible routes of varying difficulty levels. The balloon-shaped hike described here offers a good workout that takes in a nice sample of the area’s scenery. Keep in mind that like most hikes in the preserve, it’s a reverse hike that requires a 300-foot ascent out of the canyon on exposed terrain, notoriously hot during the summer.

From the parking area, descend the main trail, enjoying an excellent view of Rodriguez Mountain and an aerial perspective on Hell Creek. On the way down, interpretive plaques describe the plant life including black sage, inland scrub oak and laurel sumac. At about 0.7 miles, you reach the stream bed (dry as of this writing, but sometimes high waters can make it treacherous). You climb along the north side of the creek under the shade of some oaks before entering the open again.

Trail junction, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:32 – Junction with the Horsethief Trail

At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction with the Horsethief Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction, but by going clockwise, you can hold off on the major climbing. Follow the trail over a footbridge and continue around the side of Rodriguez Mountain. An interpretive plaque points out the canal, visible on the opposite side of the creek.

Canyon View Trail, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:50 – Start of the Canyon View Trail

At 1.9 miles, stay straight as the Horsethief Trail rejoins. Soon after you reach another junction where you’ll stay straight, now on the Canyon View Trail. You begin a steady ascent, ignoring a side trail branching off to the left just before you briefly drop down to a shallow and usually dry stream bed. At 2.6 miles, you reach the high point of the loop, a junction with the trail leading higher still to Rodriguez Mountain. Here, you an enjoy a panoramic view of the valley before continuing.

Trail crossing over a stream bed, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:00 – Crossing a stream bed on the slopes of Rodriguez Mountain

From here, the trail descends and makes one more ascent to a junction with the Paradise Mountain Trail (3.2 miles from the start). Take a hard right and continue downhill, soon meeting up with the Horsethief Trail. Bear left and follow it a short distance to the main Hell Creek Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the parking area.

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.

Panoramic view from the slope of Rodriguez Mountain, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:10 – Panoramic view from the junction with the Rodriguez Mountain Trail (high point of the loop)

 

Earl Canyon Motorway

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View of Strawberry Peak and the San Gabriel Mountains from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway, Angeles National Forest, CA

View of Strawberry Peak from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway

Sunset on the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel foothills, CA

Sunset over the Verdugo Mountains as seen from the Earl Canyon Motorway

Earl Canyon Motorway

      • Location: La Canada Flintridge, corner of Palm Drive and La Sierra Drive. From the 210 Freeway, take the Ocean View exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from Pasadena; left if from the Valley) and go 0.4 miles to Foothill Blvd. Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Palm Drive. Turn left and follow Palm for 0.8 miles. Park where available near the intersection of Palm and La Sierra (a short spur leading to a metal gate). From the south, take Highway 2 to its end just beyond the 210 Freeway. Turn left on Foothill Blvd,. go 0.2 miles and turn right on Palm Drive. Follow it 0.8 miles to the end. A nearby alternate trail head can be found on Jessen Drive.
      • Agency: City of La Canada Flintridge/Angeles National Forest (Los Angeles River Ranger District)
      • Distance: 7.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, distance)
      • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
      • Best season:  October – May
      • USGS topo map: Pasadena
      • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
      • More information: Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; video of a mountain biker descending the route here
      • Rating: 8
Start of the hike on the Earl Canyon Motorway

0:00 – Start of the hike on La Sierra and Palm Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This scenic–but grueling–hike climbs from a residential neighborhood on the edge of La Canada to a junction with the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. Here, hikers both human and canine (this trail being popular with the latter) can enjoy an excellent view for their efforts. This hike could be described as a longer version of the La Canada Teepee hike; that structure is visible from the motorway.

View of Mt. Lukens from the Earl Canyon Motorway

0:39 – View of Mt. Lukens (times are approximate)

Whether you start from La Sierra or Jessen Drive, the two paths converge after one hundred yards or so. You continue through a pleasant oak and sycamore woodland which, sadly, serves as a bit of false advertising as trees are few and far between for the majority of the route.

The trail takes a hard left at a junction with a blocked off private road, and you begin the bulk of the climb. The fire road makes its way steadily up the ridge, offering panoramic views all the way. At 1.3 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain, you reach a small turnout with an impressive view of Mt. Lukens. The trail continues its switchbacks to a saddle at 2.1 miles and 1,300 vertical feet. You get views of Mt. Lukens to the west and the San Gabriel Valley southeast. Sharp-eyed hikers may be able to pick out the La Canada Teepee on the opposite ridge. If you are short on time and energy, this can be a good turnaround point, although the rest of the hike is easier and more scenic.

Looking southeast from the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel Foothills, CA

1:03 – View from the junction

If you decide to continue, resume your ascent on the Earl Canyon Motorway, which soon effectively becomes a single-track trail. A few more switchbacks bring you to a pleasant, pseudo-shaded stretch along a north-facing ridge and soon after (about 3.3 miles) you get a view of San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Disappointment and Mt. Wilson. A fairly level and enjoyable 0.3 miles more brings you to the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. A path leads a few dozen yards more to a concrete water tank.

View of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Earl Canyon Motorway, San Gabriel foothills, CA

1:33 – View of the San Gabriels

Here you can enjoy a 270-degree panorama including Strawberry Peak and the other front country summits of the San Gabriels, Old Saddleback, Catalina Island, the Hollywood Hills, the Verdugos and the Santa Monica Mountains. After enjoying the view, return via the same route or if you want a real challenge, continue 3.6 miles northwest to Mt. Lukens. You can also make the hike into a loop by descending the Mt. Lukens Truck Trail to the Crosstown Trail, bringing you back to the Palm Drive trail head in just over 4 miles, 1.5 of which are on city streets.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean as seen from the top of the Earl Canyon Motorway, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:45 – Ocean view from the top

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.