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

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

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Sunset over Simi Valley from Coquina Mine, Ventura County, CA

Sunset from Coquina Mine

Panoramic view of Las Llajas Canyon, Simi Valley, CA

Descending into Las Lllajas Canyon on the return

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

  • Location: Evening Sky Drive, Simi Valley. From the 118 Freeway, take the Yosemite Ave. exit. Head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.3 miles to Evening Sky Drive. Turn right and drive 0.5 miles to the signed trail head on the left side of the road. Park where available.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Simi Valley East
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Panoramic city and mountain views, abandoned mining gear, limestone formations, a quiet oak canyon and a rigorous workout are the highlights of this enjoyable trip on the outskirts of Simi Valley. The destination is Coquina Mine, a limestone quarry that was abandoned in the 1930s, although the expansive network of trails in Marr Ranch Open Space, Las Llajas (YA-has) make it easy to extend the hike.

Las Llajas Trail Head, Simi Valley, CA

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

From the Las Llajas trail head, follow the paved road to a T-junction. Bear right and descend into Las Llajas Canyon. The road becomes dirt and you follow it for an attractive if not terribly varied 1.5 miles or so, passing a few private inholdings and private roads branching off, including a bee colony about 1.1 miles from the trail head. As you head up the canyon, keep an eye out for interesting limestone formations on the hills above. If there have been recent rains, the sounds of a seasonal stream accompanies your walk.

Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon near Simi Valley, Ventura County, CA

0:18 – Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon (times are approximate)

At 1.8 miles, shortly after the trail crosses the stream, look for a faint but unambiguous single-track trail branching off to the left. The trail begins a steep, crooked ascent, clinging to the hillside, providing a nice aerial view of Las Llajas Canyon. After 0.6 miles of steady climbing, the trail briefly levels out. You pass by some rusting mining equipment as the trail winds around the north side of a ridge.

0:38 - Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

0:38 – Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

At 2.7 miles, you reach a T-junction. Follow the trail as it makes a hard left, climbing a few more switchbacks with excellent views to the south of Simi Valley, the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. As you pass by an abandoned engine on the left side of the trail, you’ll also notice a large steam shovel perched on the hill in the distance; that is the destination. At another T-junction, turn left and walk the last few yards to the steam shovel. Shortly beyond it, you get an outstanding view which includes Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. In the distance to the north is the round, antenna-covered summit of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the immediate area.

Trail in the hills above Las Llajas Canyon near Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:07 – Left turn at the T-junction

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps. If you want to extend the hike, you can walk farther up Las Llajas Canyon; back at the first T-junction, you can also explore more by following the vague path to the right. This reaches a saddle where you can climb to a vista point with more all-encompassing views.

Steam shovel, Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:18 – Steam shovel at the Coquina Mine site (turnaround point)

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.

Bell Peak (Orange County)

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American Flag on Bell Peak, Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

Flag on top of Bell Peak

Southeast panorama from the Bell View Trail, Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

Looking southeast from the Bell View Trail

Bell Peak (Orange County)

      • Location: Robinson Ranch, Orange County, in the foothills of the Santa Mountains.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Alicia Parkway exit and go northeast (left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south) for 5.3 miles to the road’s end at Rancho Santa Margarita Parkway.  Turn right and go 2.7 miles to Plano Trabuco.  Turn left and go 0.3 miles to Robinson Ranch Road.  Turn right and go 1.2 miles. Note a small green area with a picnic table on the left side of the street; this is your starting point, where the Bell View Trail meets Robinson Ranch Road. Park where available.
      • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation; Cleveland National Forest (Trabuco Ranger District)
      • Distance: 3.8 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain, terrain)
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: November – April
      • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
      • More information: Trip description here; article about the hike here; Bell View trail map here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
Bell View Trail Head, Orange County, CA

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

Bell Peak is the unofficial name of the first major bump on the long ridge that runs all the way from Los Pinos Peak to the foothills above Robinson Ranch. Die-hards have been known to hike or bike the entire route (almost 7 miles each way) but for hikers wanting a shorter though still vigorous workout with some panoramic views of the area, Bell Peak is a popular destination. The summit is also known as Patriot Hill due to the American flag placed at the top (not to be confused with Flag Hill and the Patriot Trail in San Clemente.)

Santiago Peak as seen from the Bell View Trail, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County, CA

0:15 – View of Santiago Peak from the top of the first ridge

The hike starts where the Bell View Trail meets Robinson Ranch Road. From the picnic table, head left and uphill (the segment to the right takes you south toward Caspers Wilderness Park and is part of the Robinson Ranch/Bell View Loop, another worthwhile hike). The trail ascends steadily, making an Z-shaped curve, taking in dramatic views of Santiago Peak to the north and the surrounding suburban areas to the south. At 0.7 miles, you reach a junction with an unsigned trail. While adept hikers can use use the single-track to cut off some distance, those visiting for the first time would be best served to stick with the main trail, which drops sharply into a ravine. Here, a few large oaks provide the only significant shade on the entire route.

Oaks in the Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

0:19 – Oaks at the bottom of the first hill

At the bottom, the trail splits. Both forks soon rejoin but the right fork, which climbs steeply out of the canyon, is quicker. A short but difficult ascent brings you to another junction a mile from the start.

Here, you turn right on a single-track trail, soon entering Cleveland National Forest land. The trail is level for a short distance and manages to get a little more shade from a few trees on the ridge before reaching the most demanding portion of the hike; a stretch of 0.4 miles that gains 450 feet. The terrain is rocky and loose in some spots.

Single track trail leading into the Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:25 – Turnoff from the Bell View Trail

After huffing and puffing your way to the top of the ridge, your work becomes easier as the next section of the trail is mercifully level. You get more views of Santiago Peak and Bell Peak with its flag is now clearly visible. Two more short, steep climbs bring you to the top.

View of Santiago Peak and Bell Peak, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:45 – Santiago Peak and Bell Peak (right) as seen from the top of the ridge

Unfortunately there’s no real place to sit down and the bugs can be annoying, but there’s still an impressive vista, especially on clear days. The panorama includes a bird’s eye perspective of Trabuco Canyon, the hills of Whiting Ranch and O’Neill Parks, Catalina Island, the San Joaquin Hills and if visibility is good, San Clemente Island. Enjoy it and rest your legs for the steep descent back.

Aerial view of Trabuco Canyon from Bell Peak, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County, CA

1:00 – Trabuco Canyon as seen from the summit

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

Slaughterhouse Canyon (Murrieta)

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View from the top of Slaughterhouse Canyon, Murrieta, CA

View from the top of Slaughterhouse Canyon

Oaks and sunlight in Slaughterhouse Canyon, Murrieta, CA

Sunlight through oaks, Slaughterhouse Canyon

Slaughterhouse Canyon (Murrieta)

  • Location: Murrieta, near the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. From I-15, take the Clinton Keith Road exit and follow it southeast for 4 miles to Avenida La Cresta. Turn right, go 0.3 miles and turn right to stay on Avenida La Cresta. Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Via La Entrada. Go 0.4 miles to the end of the road and park in a small dirt turnout on the right.
  • Agency: Trails at Santa Rosa Home Owners Association
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Point-of-view video of a mountain bike trail ride here; mountain biking Meetup description here
  • Rating: 5
Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail Head, Murrieta, CA

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

Its name may sound intimidating and indeed it has a reputation among mountain bikers as an “extreme” trail but the hike through Slaughterhouse Canyon is a family-friendly nature walk. Veteran hikers who have explored the trails of the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve and the San Mateo area of the Cleveland National Forest might be pleasantly surprised by Slaughterhouse Canyon, which is more popular with mountain bikers than pedestrians. The downsides of this trail are litter and the hard-to-ignore noise from nearby Clinton Keith Road, but it is still a worthwhile destination if you’re in the area, a good example of how nature and open space can exist in close proximity to civilization.

Oak woodland, Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:06 – Entering the woods (times are approximate)

The trail leaves from the south side of the end of Via Entrada. It is unmarked, although a sign indicates the terms of use dictated by the home owners association who oversees the trail. Follow it as it drops into the canyon, enjoying nice views of distant San Gorgonio Mountain. The trail soon enters an attractive woodland, primarily oaks with a few sycamores and willows mixed in.

For the next half mile, the trail weaves in and out of the woods, following the course of the canyon as it parallels Clinton Keith Road. At three quarters of a mile, the trail splits; the two forks rejoin almost immediately. A mile from the start, the trail enters another particularly impressive grove of oaks, some of which tower upwards of fifty feet, virtually blocking out the sun. This is a nice spot to sit and rest on the return to charge your batteries for the ascent back to Via Entrada.

Oak woodlands, Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:25 – Oak woodlands

At 1.3 miles, the trail crosses the stream bed on a small wooden footbridge. Soon after, it bends east and climbs out of the canyon, reaching a somewhat unceremonious ending at Clinton Keith Road, near a fire station. Bikers have the option of returning via the road, but hikers would be advised to retrace their steps back through the canyon.

Footbridge on the Slaughterhouse Canyon Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:31 – Footbridge

As for the canyon’s name, “Images of America: Temecula” mentions a “slaughterhouse that stood on the west bank of Murrieta Creek, just south of town.” According to the book, the slaughterhouse burned down in 1928 and a replacement was built, operating until the 1950s.

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 Santa Ana Mountains from the end of the Slaughterhouse Trail, Murrieta, CA

0:40 – Looking back from the turnaround point at Clinton Keith Road

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

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Wilderness Gardens Preserve, Pala, CA

View of Wilderness Gardens Preserve from the Upper Meadow Trail

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

Oaks and sycamores on the Upper Meadow Trail

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:07 – Motreros

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

Pond at Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – The pond

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

Upper Meadow Trail, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County

0:50 – Start of the Upper Meadow Trail

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

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

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

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

 

Vulture Crags

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View of Santiago Peak from the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

View of Santiago Peak from the Santiago Truck Trail

View of southeastern Orange County from the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, CA

Southeast view from the Santiago Truck Trail

Vulture Crags

      • Location: Modjeska Grade Road, Orange County. Modjeska Grade Road is located off of Santiago Canyon Road, 8.8 miles north of I-5 (via El Toro Road) and 15 miles southeast of the 55 Freeway (via Chapman Ave.) Turn left if you’re coming from the north; right if from the south. Modjeska Grade is a steep, narrow winding road so exercise caution (the author has witnessed a car crash on this road due to excessive speed.) Parking is not available in the immediate vicinity of the trail head. Signs are posted along both sides indicating where parking is legal; the closest to the trail head is about 0.1 miles north of it (0.6 miles from Santiago Canyon Road). If parking is unavailable there, park below the trail head, possibly on Santiago Canyon Road itself in a small dirt turnout.
      • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation; Cleveland National Forest (Trabuco Ranger District)
      • Distance: 7 miles (round trip distance assuming closest possible starting point)
      • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet (assuming closest possible starting point)
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: November – April
      • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
      • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat;
      • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Orange County
      • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - View from the start of legal parking on Modjeska Grade Road, north of the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View from the start of legal parking on Modjeska Grade Road, north of the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Santiago Truck Trail climbs from Santiago Canyon all the way to Main Divide Road. The moderately graded 10-plus mile route is popular with mountain bikers for day hikers, Vulture Crags makes a good destination for a moderate trip. Highlights include up-close views of Modjeska and Santiago Peaks, panoramic vistas of the Orange County coastal plains and foothills and Vulture Crags, once a roosting spot for condors. Keep in mind that the trail is entirely exposed, although if you get off to an early or late start, the ridges may block out some of the sun.

Marine fossils on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:16 – Fossils in a rock (times are approximate)

After carefully walking along the narrow shoulder of Modjeska Grade Road from your starting point, begin hiking on the Santiago Truck Trail, which leaves from the east side of the street. The trail ascends, following the ridge, with views of Santiago Canyon on the left and Live Oak Canyon on the right. Half a mile from the road, keep an eye out for a large rock with several marine fossils embedded into it.

Greenery on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

0:30 – Greenery on the Santiago Truck Trail

After a mile, the trail follows the north side of a ridge and the terrain becomes greener. After a vigorous ascent, the trail levels out briefly before climbing to a vista point (2.5 miles from the start). Here you can rest and enjoy a 180-degree view to the south and east.

Panoramic view of the Santa Ana foothills from the Santiago Truck Trail, Orange County, CA

1:10 – Southwest view from the vista point about 2.5 miles from the start

Following the vista point, the trail climbs to the highest point on this hike, about 2,300 feet. If it is spring, you may notice the pleasant scent of wild flowers. You soon see the backside of Vulture Crags; keep an eye out too for a large sandstone outcrop on the left side of the trail, resembling the geology of the Santa Monica Mountains. The trail descends to a saddle where a short spur leads to a mini-summit, marked by U.S. and Marine Corps flags. Here you can sit and get a great view of Vulture Crags. Below the formation are layers of multicolored marine sediment. You also get a nice aerial view of Live Oak Canyon Road, about a mile away. The Morrow Trail (aka the Luge) leads down to the road and is popular with mountain bikers but not very practical for hikers, with no parking access at the lower end.

Geology on the Santiago Truck Trail, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

1:30 – Geology near Vulture Crags

If you still have time and energy, you can head up farther on the Santiago Truck Trail or explore the Morrow Trail, keeping in mind that the latter will require you to ascend after descending. Otherwise retrace your steps back to Modjeska Grade.

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.

Vulture Crags, Cleveland National Forest, Orange County, CA

1:40 – Vulture Crags as seen from the turnaround point

Strawberry Peak

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

Looking east toward Mt. Baldy from Strawberry Peak

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

Southwest view from below Strawberry Peak

Strawberry Peak

    • Location: Red Box Picnic Area, Angeles National Forest.  From I-210 in La Canada, take the Angeles Crest Highway northeast for 14 miles and park at the Red Box Picnic Area, at the junction with the road to Mt. Wilson.  From the high desert, take the Angeles Forest Highway south to Big Tujunga Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 9 miles to the Angeles Crest Highway.  Turn right and go 4.3 miles to Red Box, which will be on the left.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 7 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Best season: October – June
    • USGS topo maps: Chilao Flat
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
    • More information: Trip descriptions (pre-Station Fire) here and here; trip reports both pre-and post-Station Fire here; Hundred Peaks page here; Everytrail report here; video shot from the summit here
    • Rating: 9
Strawberry Peak Trail Head on the Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:28 – Looking west from the saddle

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

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

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

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

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

Steep trail to Strawberry Peak, Angeles National Forest, CA

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

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

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

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

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