Hemet Maze Stone

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Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Hemet Maze Stone

    • Location: Northwest of Hemet.  From Highway 74 (8.5 miles east of the 215 Freeway and 5 miles west of downtown Hemet) head north on California Avenue.  Follow it a total of 3.2 miles to a dead end (turn left on Tres Cerritos Avenue after about a mile and then turn right to continue on California Avenue) and park before the fence.
    • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
    • Distance:  0.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season:  Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Lakeview
    • More information: Article about the stone here; blog descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 4

For those interested in the obscure and unusual, a trip to the Hemet Maze Stone can be an oddly rewarding experience.  Whether it qualifies as a hike is a matter of opinion, but it is a designated California Historical Landmark – #557, to be precise.  The Maze Stone has a cult following of sorts, lending its name to a nearby housing development and a restaurant at Soboba Casino.

0:00 - Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The destination of the hike is a boulder containing ancient petroglyph depicting two intertwined mazes.  Sadly, vandalism has necessitated two barbed-wire fences around the stone, but you can still get a peek at it. From the end of California Avenue, cross through the fence and follow the abandoned road uphill.  For its location in a dry corner of the valley, the landscape surrounding the Maze Stone is fairly diverse; you will see sycamores, a desert willow and buckwheat, among other plants.  The hills are dotted with granite boulders similar to those at the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecogical Reserve.  As you climb the hill, if visibility is good, you can get a glimpse of the San Bernardino Mountains.

0:08 - Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

0:08 – Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

At 0.3 miles, you reach the stone.  You can climb on a rock to get a better look at it although it’s hard to get too much of a view through the fence.  Still, it’s an interesting site–one worth visiting if you’re in the area and are curious, perhaps hungry for a different type of outdoor experience.

0:10 - The maze stone and the fences

0:10 – The maze stone and the fences

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

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View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

    • Location: Idyllwild.  From I-10 in Banning, take Highway 243 south for 24 miles to Idyllwild.  Turn right on Maranatha Drive and almost immediately bear left onto Lower Pinecrest Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Riverside County Playground Road and follow the signs to the park.  From Highway 74, take Highway 243 north for 4 miles.  Bear left onto Riverside Couty Playground Road and follow it 0.1 miles to the park entrance.  Day use fees are $3 per adult, $2 per child and $1 per dog, cash only, change not given.  The day use area is just past the entrance kiosk.
    • Agency: Riverside County Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 3.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 750 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: April-October
    • USGS topo maps: Idyllwild; San Jacinto Peak
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Home page here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trail map here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

Like the nearby Ernie Maxwell Trail, the trails of Idyllwild County Park offer the scenic perks of the San Jacinto Mountains–majestic pines, black oaks, wide-ranging mountain views–without requiring the commitment to hike to one of the major summits.  While the Maxwell Trail suffers less from the noise and sights of civilization, this one has more variety, plus an enjoyable and informative nature center.

0:22 - Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

0:22 – Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

The trails, while well signed, can be a little confusing.  The Perimeter Trail, for example, overlaps with several others; at the junctions, the same trail is often signed twice.  There are a few spots (particularly on the Summit Trail) where the route is a little vague, although if you find yourself having to go off-trail beyond some basic rock scrambling, you’ve likely just lost the trail and should be able to retrace your steps not too far before finding it.  The Perimeter Trail, as described here, is a good, moderate route that takes in pretty much all that the park has to offer, but it doesn’t have to be followed exactly.  Idyllwild County Park is a nice place to just wander around.

0:28 - Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

0:28 – Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

To follow the Perimeter Trail, take the paved road toward the campground.  After a few hundred yards, make a hard right on the signed trail and begin walking uphill through an attractive forest of pines and oaks.  You will pass several junctions; keep following the signs for the Perimeter Trail.  On the right, keep an eye out for views of Tahquitz Rock, Tahquitz Peak and San Jacinto.

0:31 - Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

0:31 – Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

After 1.1 miles, cross the paved road (an alternate entrance to the park) and pick up the Perimeter Trail on the opposite side.  It descends to a T-junction.  Both routes lead toward the nature center, but the right trail is more interesting.  Take it and then almost immediately turn left.  Follow the trail through the woods, passing by a pair of benches overlooking a flat rock with a few morteros.

0:35 - Sticks out like a sore thumb!

0:35 – Sticks out like a sore thumb!

Continuing south on the trail, you pass by a granite boulder with an outcrop resembling a thumb.  Just beyond you reach a junction.  Turn left, briefly leaving the Perimeter Trail and follow the Yellow Pine Trail to the nature center.  Here, you can take a few minutes to enjoy interpretive exhibits including taxidermy of bobcats, mountain lions, owls and coyotes; Cahuilla artifacts and more.  You can also pick up a park map here.

0:40 - Stuffed cougar at the nature center

0:40 – Stuffed cougar at the nature center

When you’re done at the nature center, return to the Yellow Pine Trail and head left, following it to another T-junction.  Turn right and rejoin the Perimeter Trail.  Follow it a short distance to another junction just past a gigantic black oak, turn left and turn right at the next junction (the map will come in handy.)

1:15 - Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

1:15 – Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

At 1.7 miles from the start, you’ll reach the beginning of the Summit Trail, also signed as the Summit Loop.  Stay straight and begin a steep climb, making switchbacks up the ridge.  Keep an eye out for the white trail markers if you are not sure about the route.  After half a mile and about 350 vertical feet, the trail levels out and you get views of San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak to the left.  As you follow the ridge south, you can see Garner Valley, Thomas Mountain and the Palomars. If visibility is good, you may even be able to pick out the observatory.

1:20 - San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

1:20 – San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

The trail begins a steep descent, at times rocky (be careful; use your hands as well as your feet).  Again the route can be a little tricky but if you look for the white trail markers you should stay on course.  The trail drops back into the woods, reaching another junction (2.7 miles.)  Stay right and then take a left, following the trail down to the end of Delano Drive.  Cross the street and follow the trail back into the park, threading your way between the camp sites on the left and a mobile home park on the right.  Ignoring a few false trails that branch off, follow the trail half a mile back to the meadow and the parking area.

1:30 - Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

1:30 – Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:40 - Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

1:40 – Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

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Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

  • Location: Grand Avenue and Toft Drive, Lake Elsinore.  From the north, take I-15 to the Lake Avenue exit.  Turn right on Lake Ave. and follow it 4.1 miles to Plumas St. (Lake becomes Grand Avenue along the way).  Turn left on Plumas, go 0.5 miles and turn right on Grand.  Park on the corner of Grand Avenue and Toft Drive.  From the south, take I-15 to Central Avenue/Highway 74.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Collier Ave.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Riverside Drive.  Turn left and go 3.2 miles to Grand Avenue.  Turn right and go 1 mile to the corner of Grand and Toft.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,350 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo maps: Alberhill
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Video of a dirt biker riding the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating:6
ECTT Beginning

0:00 – Start of the hike on Grand Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the El Cariso Nature Trail, the El Cariso Truck Trail (Forest Road 6S06 on some maps) forms a link between Lake Elsinore and Main Divide Road near its intersection with Highway 74.  The trail is basically a shorter and easier version of the Indian Truck Trail near Corona.  Popular with mountain bikers and dirt bikers, the trail tends not to see much foot traffic.  While it suffers from trash and graffiti (particularly in its lower reaches), on a cool, clear day, it can be a very enjoyable trip.  Hikers who feel as if they’ve seen it all when it comes to the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains might want to give this one a look.

0:48 - Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

0:48 – Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

From the corner of Toft and Grand, follow Grand briefly southeast before seeing the beginning of the trail.  Take a sharp right turn and begin your climb, passing by the tops of a few houses.  Unfortunately the first quarter of a mile has become a dumping ground, but the trash soon thins out.  Your ascent soon gives you an aerial view of Lake Elsinore and while the trail is still exposed, chaparral growing on the sides provides some shade at least if you’re off to an early start.

At about 1.6 miles, the trail splits; stay right (the left route goes toward a private residence, the first of several you’ll see along the way).  After passing another trail merging in from the left, you reach the welcome shade of oaks and sycamores (1.9 miles.)  True, there’s a fence running along the left side of the road, but this is still a nice place to stop and take a break.

0:57 - Shade!

0:57 – Shade!

The trail climbs out of the woodland and continues toward Main Divide, weaving its way in and out of a few more stands of oaks.  The trail reaches Main Divide Road at 3 miles; a pile of rocks shortly before the junction makes a good spot for sitting and enjoying the view.  While the road might seem a slightly anti-climatic destination, the wide-ranging views of the lake – and, given good visibility, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio and Mt. Baldy – on the way back make the descent a very enjoyable experience.

1:30 - Trail's end at Main Divide Road

1:30 – Trail’s end at Main Divide Road

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk,and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Metate Trail (San Bernardino National Forest)

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Black oaks on the Metate Trail

Black oaks and pines on the Metate Trail

Metate Trail

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead.  From I-210 in San Bernardino, take Highway 18 (Waterman Ave. exit) and go north for 14.2 miles.   Turn left on Lake Gregory Drive and make an immediate right on Highway 189.  Go a total of 2.7 miles on 189, through the town of Twin Peaks, and turn left on Grass Valley Road.  (There’s a gas station at the intersection).  This intersection can be a little tricky, so be careful.  Go a total of 4.2 miles on Grass Valley Road (at 1.9 miles, look for a sharp left turn; if you stay straight, you’ll end up on Peninsula Drive.)  Grass Valley Road dead-ends at Highway 173.  Turn left and drive 0.2 miles to the signed Metate Trail Head on the left side of the road.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 1.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 100 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: G
      • Suggested time: 45 minutes
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Pronounced “meh-TAH-tay”, this trail – also known as the Rock Camp Trail and Indian Rock Trail and signed as 3W15 – is located in a remote area of the San Bernardino National Forest that’s popular with cyclists, but largely overlooked by hikers.  Indeed, hikers in the Lake Arrowhead/Big Bear area may be pleasantly surprised by this short but scenic trail.  Close to a mile above sea level in elevation, the Metate Trail explores a grassy woodland populated with manzanita, black oaks and pines.

0:02 - Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

There are several single-track trails that cross the area and hikers can also extend their trip on Forest Road 3W11 which is nearby. The 1.2-mile loop described here is a nice introduction to the area; a perfect escape into nature about an hour’s drive from the Riverside/San Bernardino area. If you’re up here for the day to check out other nearby trails, such as the Pinnacles or Bradford Ridge, the Metate is a worthwhile stop.

0:08 - Bear left again

0:08 – Bear left again

From the parking area, cross Highway 173 and follow the paved road to the Rock Camp Ranger Station. You reach a Y-junction that marks the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. In this post we’ll be describing it clockwise. Bear left and follow the trail past a gate signed “Interpretive Area” and continue to an unsigned junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll stay left. At the next junction, also unsigned, about 0.1 miles later, turn right (the left fork leads to 3W11, an option if you want to extend the hike.)

0:12 - This time turn right.

0:12 – This time turn right.

You follow the trail through an attractive woodland, reaching a T-junction by a meadow 3/4 of a mile from the start. Turn left and keep an eye out for some morteros pounded into rock on the right side of the trail.  Native Americans used these holes to grind and prepare their food.

0:23 - Indian Morteros in the rocks

0:23 – Indian Morteros in the rocks

After crossing a creek, the trail curves through the meadow. You cross the creek again on the far side and follow the trail back to the junction, completing the loop. Cross Highawy 173 again to return to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:26 - Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

0:26 – Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

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Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

      • Location: San Bernardino National Forest, between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, near Green Valley.  From Highway 18, just east of Running Springs, turn left on Green Valley Road.  Go 2.6 miles and turn left on a dirt road signed for Crab Flats (forest road 3N16).  Follow the signs to the campgrounds, ignoring several side roads that branch off.  Road 3N16 is in pretty good shape, but after about 3 miles, you will have to ford Crab Creek, which, according to the guidebook, is “impassable” in high water.  Even in low water, high clearance vehicles are best.  After crossing the creek, continue to a junction (3.8 miles from Green Valley Road) and turn left on forest road 3N34.   Go 0.5 miles and park in a turnout at the side of the road, near the vehicle trail numbered 1W17.  The trailhead coordinates are N 34 15.888, W 117 05.408.   A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 5.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
      • Best season:  March – June; September – November
      • USGS topo maps: Butler Peak
      • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
      • More information: Description of a backpacking trip including Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp (longer route) here; Description of Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable loop explores some of the less-traveled area of the San Bernardino National Forest east of Lake Arrowhead.  Highlights include a variety of plant life (black oaks, manzanitas, pines and more); panoramic views of the eastern San Gabriel and western San Bernardino Mountains and interesting geology, including an almost spherical boulder. Timing can be important: a lot of the trail is exposed, so if you hike during the summer, plan accordingly. Conversely you have to drive about 4 miles of dirt road, including a fording of Crab Creek, to reach the trail head, so heavy rains will likely prevent you from doing this hike during the winter or early spring. Expect to battle bugs as well.

0:20 - Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

0:20 – Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

From the parking turnout, follow road 3N34 due west for a pleasant if not particularly interesting 0.8 miles to the Tent Peg Group Camp (ignore a road branching off to the right about half way there.) Just past the camp by an information board, turn right on a single-track trail signed for Hawes Peak; it’s also listed as 2W08 on some maps. The trail descends for an enjoyable 1.6 miles, yielding views of Hawes Peak and its neighboring summits straight ahead and Lake Arrowhead and the distant San Gabriels on the left (you may also get a glimpse of the Pinnacles). You pass the spherical boulder, negotiate a few fallen trees, duck in and out of a woodland and meet the Pacific Crest Trail at 2.4 miles.

0:30 - Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

0:35 – Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

Turn right and head east on the P.C.T., passing a junction with the Cox Creek Trail.  This stretch is largely shaded and fairly level, making it one of the more enjoyable sections of the loop.  After about a mile you reach a 4-way junction. You can shorten the hike by heading right (uphill) on 1W17, a steep vehicle trail. However, if you have time take a scenic 1/2 mile detour by heading straight on the P.C.T. to Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp.

1:00 - Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

1:00 – Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

Here, beneath some tall pines, you can sit and enjoy the sound of nearby Holcomb Creek. It’s fairly easy to work your way down to its banks. When ready, retrace your steps to the junction. Complete the loop by heading southwest on 1W17. A steep and sometimes tedious ascent brings you back to the parking area.

1:28 - 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

1:28 – 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:40 - Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

1:40 – Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

Tahquitz Canyon

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Tahquitz Falls

Tahquitz Falls

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon

  • Location: Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center, 500 W. Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs.  From the Riverside area, take I-10 east to Highway 111.  Take Highway 111 southeast for 15.3 miles.  Continue straight onto North Palm Canyon Drive and go 2.6 miles to Mesquite Avenue.  Turn right and follow Mesquite 0.2 miles to the Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center and park in the lot shortly beyond.  From Indio, take I-10 to Bob Hope Drive.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn right on Ramon and go 7.9 miles to Belardo Road.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Mesquite.  Turn right and follow the road to the visitors center and the parking lot.  Admission is $12.50 for each adult and $6 for children.
  • Agency: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – May (7:30am – 5pm; last entry at 3:30pm)
  • USGS topo maps: “Cathedral City”, “Palm Springs”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Tahquitz Canyon home page here; trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

The 60-foot waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon may be Southern California’s most unusual.  It could be 90 or 100 degrees when you begin the hike, but you will easily forget the heat when wading through pools of water from melted snow almost two vertical miles above on the upper reaches of San Jacinto Peak.

0:00 - Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the Tahquitz Peak in the San Jacinto Range, Tahquitz Canyon (pronounced either TAW-kits or TAW-kwish depending on whom you ask) is named for the infamous Cahuilla shaman who was banished from the tribe after abusing his powers. In modern times, on this short trip through the canyon, hikers can experience history, observe a variety of plant life including creosote and mesquite, see examples of Indian art and sites that have significance to the tribe, pass by bizarre geological formations and finally experience the excitement of a waterfall in the middle of the desert.

0:08 - Trail split past the visitors' center (times are approximate)

0:08 – Trail split past the visitors’ center (times are approximate)

The loop is a figure-8 and the first split happens soon after leaving the visitor center.  Take either trail, making your way up a few steps and over rocks.  The left fork runs up against some particularly large boulders before they rejoin.  You dip down to the stream and cross it on a stone jetty about 0.3 miles from the start.

Continuing up canyon, you reach another junction at about 0.6 miles.  If it’s a very hot day you might want to take the right fork, which generally sticks closer to the stream and has a little bit of shade.  The left fork crosses the stream and backtracks for a few yards before continuing toward the waterfall.  It climbs the south side of the canyon, reaching a high point of 906 feet before dropping down into a shaded grotto (1 mile from the start.)

0:12 - "Sacred Rock"

0:12 – “Sacred Rock”

Here, Tahquitz Falls plunges about 60 feet down a rock face into a large pool split by a big boulder.  You can sit on a stone ford and watch the waterfall or wade into the pool for a closer look, but keep in mind that it’s hard to see the depth of the water because the canyon blocks out much of the sunlight, so exercise caution.  After enjoying the waterfall, return via either route, completing a loop or an out-and-back hike as you  see fit.

0:17 - Beginning of the second loop

0:17 – Beginning of the second loop

The hike’s admission fee of $12.50 per adult or $6 has drawn criticism from some online reviewers, several of whom cite the shortness of the trip as not being worth the price tag.  While Tahquitz Canyon can potentially be one of Southern California’s priciest  hikes–$37 for a family of four as an example–it’s still considerably less expensive than many other tourist attractions.  Consider too the efforts of the Agua Calliente Band in cleaning up the canyon, which was long filled with trash and graffiti.  At the risk of sounding preachy, when natural spaces are accessible to the public without being regulated, they can be subject to abuse, like Rancho Cucamonga’s doomed Sapphire Falls.  Other than a few bits of broken glass here and there and a “Jesus Saves” inscription on a rock, Tahquitz Canyon is in its natural state, a true oasis just a short distance from civilization.

0:35 - Pool below Tahquitz Falls

0:35 – Pool below Tahquitz Falls

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Table Mountain Nature Trail

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Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Looking west from the Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Sun through the pines, Table Mountain Nature Trail

Table Mountain Nature Trail

  • Location:  Table Mountain Campground, Angeles National Forest near Big Pines.  From I-15, take Highway 138 west for 8.6 miles.  Turn left on Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) and drive 8.7 miles to the town of Big Pine.  Just before the turnoff for Palmdale, past the ranger station, turn right on Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  Park in the large lot, taking care to note signed restrictions (if in doubt, park by the picnic area, a few hundred yards past the turnoff for the campground.)  If you’re coming from the Antelope Valley, take Highway 138 east to 131st St/Longview Road.  Turn left and go 2.2 miles to Fort Tejon Road.  Go 2.5 miles and turn right on Valyermo Road.  Drive 14 miles to Big Pines (Valyermo Road becomes Big Pines Road along the way).  At the junction with the Angeles Crest Highway, turn left and make an immediate hard left on to Table Mountain Road and follow it a mile to the campground.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest/Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: April-October
  • USGS topo map:  Mescal Creek
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield Los Angeles County
  • More information: here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike by the campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Big Pines and Lightning Ridge Trails, the Table Mountain Nature Trail offers a nice sampling of the Angeles National Forest high country.  The trail starts and ends at the Table Mountain Campground and leads through an attractive woodland of pines and oaks. The intermittent views of Mt. Baden-Powell and the high desert aren’t quite as panoramic as those of the Lightning Ridge Trail but this is still a nice spot to visit, a good place to stretch one’s legs while driving the Angeles Crest Highway. If you’re not used to hiking at high altitude, this hike is a good trip to acclimate yourself.

0:02 - Start of the Nature Trail (times are approximate)

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

From the parking area, head toward the white metal gate at the top of the Table Mountain Campground. Even if the campground is closed (which it us until May each year) you can still access the trail, which heads off to the left. You make a few switchbacks, descending through the trees. Numbered metal plaques guide the way; they refer to a brochure that is available at the nearby Grassy Hollow Visitors Center.

0:04 - Cluster of black oaks

0:04 – Cluster of black oaks

At about 0.3 miles (between markers 5 and 6) you make a hard right; ignore the faint trail that continues downhill. You get some nice views of Baden-Powell and other peaks to the west as you make your way along the southwest facing slope.

At 0.6 miles you reach a clearing with a picnic table. Just beyond the table is the road that leads through the campground. Turn right and follow the road 0.4 miles uphill back to your starting point. On the way, see if you can get a glimpse of the flat expanse of the high desert in between the trees.

0:10 - Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

0:10 – Stay right after the false trail continues downhill

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:18 - The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

0:18 – The picnic area (turn right on the road to complete the loop)

Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)

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Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Southeast view from the top of the Sycamore Canyon Trail

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Climbing the stairs, Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon Park (Claremont)

  • Location: Higginbotham Park, Claremont.  From the west, take the 210 Freeway to the Towne Ave. exit.  Turn left on Towne, cross the freeway and turn right on Baseline.  Go 0.4 miles and turn left on Mountain Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Sage.  Go 0.2 miles and turn right on Mt. Carmel Drive.  The park will be on the left in 0.1 miles.  From the east, take the 210 Freeway to Baseline.  Turn right and go 1.5 miles to Indian Hill.  Turn right and go 0.4 miles to Mt. Carmel.  Turn left and go 0.3 miles to the park, which will be on the right.
  • Agency: City of Claremont
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “Mt. Baldy”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Meet Up description here; article about the re-opening of the park here; Foursquare page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 5

Recently re-opened following the 2003 Grand Prix Fire, Sycamore Canyon Park features a short but steep trail connecting the Thompson Creek Trail with East Pomello Drive, a dirt road that is part of the Johnson Pasture/Gale Mountain Motorway loop.  While this trail never really gets away from the sights and sounds of civilization, it offers a good workout (especially if you continue toward Johnson Pasture) and if the weather is clear, you get a great, nearly aerial view of the Claremont area and San Gabriel Valley.  The citizens of Claremont deserve a special shout-out for their dedication to restoring this trail.

0:00 - Trailhead, Higginbotham Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead, Higginbotham Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Though Sycamore Canyon can be accessed via the Thompson Creek Trail, the quickest way to reach it is by walking through Higginbotham Park. On the north side of the park, turn right on the Thompson Creek Trail, pass the restrooms and look for a staircase descending toward the entrance of Sycamore Canyon Park. Almost immediately you reach a junction where a spur heads straight into the canyon, soon reaching the ruins of a stone cabin (an optional side-trip). This route, however, follows the right fork, which wastes no time ascending a steep set of stairs. As you climb, you get better and better views.

0:05 - Entrance to Sycamore Canyon Park from the Thompson Creek Trail (times are approximate)

0:06 – Entrance to Sycamore Canyon Park from the Thompson Creek Trail (times are approximate)

After ascending almost 200 feet in about 0.2 miles, the trail levels out briefly and you reach a saddle where you get a good view of the Ontario/Cucamonga Ridge. The trail then makes a series of switchbacks, levels out again and makes a final steep push to the top. Just before reaching the dirt road a small clearing with a makeshift bench provides a great view to the east and the south. The clear-day vista includes Sugarloaf Mountain, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, Box Springs, Old Saddleback, the Puente Hills and more. (Unfortunately Ontario and Cucamonga are obscured by power lines.)

0:13 - View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

0:13 – View of Ontario and Cucamonga Peaks

After enjoying the view, return by the same route or continue toward Johnson Pasture. It’s also possible create a loop by descending the dirt road to the Thompson Creek Trail and following it southwest back to Higginbotham Park.

0:25 - Top of the trail, junction with East Pomello (turnaround point)

0:25 – Top of the trail, junction with East Pomello (turnaround point)

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)

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Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)

  • Location: Lake Perris State Recreation Area, between Moreno Valley and Perris, Riverside County.  From the 60 Freeway, take the Moreno Beach Drive exit and head south for a total of 3.2 miles (turn left if you’re coming from Palm Springs; from the west, merge onto Auto Mall Parkway and turn right on Moreno Beach Drive.)  At 3.2 miles, turn left on Vista Del Lago, signed for the park.  At 1.3 miles, after passing the front gate where you pay the $10 per day vehicle use fee*, turn right on Alta Calle (first paved road you’ll come to), go 0.4 miles and turn right on a dirt service road signed for Horse Camp.  Follow it 0.4 miles to a junction where you turn left and park in the corral area. *As of this writing (Feb. 2014), to pay the day use fee, drive about 0.5 miles past the turnoff for the camp, turn left on Transition Road and drive to the kiosk.
  • Agency: Lake Perris State Recreation Area
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Perris, Sunnymead
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Hike descriptions here; here (loop configuration), Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead by the horse corral (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead by the horse corral (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Lake Perris is best known for its boating and horseback riding, but the park also features a few hiking trails, the most famous of which is the moderate trip to Terri Peak.  The hike loses a few points due to trash and graffiti on the summit, as well as the proximity to civilization (including the noise of watercraft) but on clear days, Terri Peak offers some of the best views around. If you live or work in the area it’s well worth a visit.

0:05 - Bear right at the four way junction by the water tank and head uphill (times are approximate)

0:05 – Bear right at the four way junction by the water tank and head uphill (times are approximate)

From the corral, follow the service road east. You can shave a minute or two off by bearing left on a single-track that joins the road farther up. At a four-way junction by the water tank, bear right and begin the bulk of the ascent.

0:19 - Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

0:19 – Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

The trail heads through a jumble of pink and tan boulders, taking in nice views of Moreno Valley, the San Bernardino Mountains, San Jacinto Peak and the lake. There are a few spots where the trail is a little vague due to hikers and bikers who have cut corners, but every time it splits it soon rejoins.

At 0.9 miles, stay left as another trail joins in from an alternate starting point on Vista Del Lago. You make a steep ascent, reaching a crest at 1.2 miles where the trail drops into a valley. At 1.5 miles, you reach a T-junction where you’ll turn left, making a steep ascent to the summit. Right before you reach the peak, a faint trail branches off; this can be an option for extending the hike into a 6-mile loop.

0:28 - Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

0:28 – Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

On the wide, flat summit of Terri Peak, you get an excellent aerial view of Lake Perris. With good visibility, you may see the following mountain ranges: the San Gabriels, Box Springs, Santa Anas, Palomars, Santa Rosas, San Jacintos, San Bernardinos and the Bernasconi Hills.

0:50 - Spur to the summit

0:50 – Spur to the summit

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:53 - Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

0:53 – Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

Zanja Peak (West Approach)

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Looking west from Zanja Peak

Looking west from Zanja Peak

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Zanja Peak (West Approach)

  • Location: Crafton Hills near Yucaipa.  From San Bernardino, take I-10 to Yucaipa Blvd.  Turn left and go 1.5 miles to Sand Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Chapman Heights Road.    Go 0.3 miles to 13th St. and park where available.   From Palm Springs, take I-10 to Oak Glen/Live Oak Canyon Road.  Turn right and make a quick left on 14th St.  Go 1.1 miles, cross Yucaipa Blvd. and continue onto Sand Canyon Road.  Go 0.2 miles and turn right on Chapman Heights Road.  Go 0.3 miles and park where available on 13th St.
  • Agency:  Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy
  • Distance:  8.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, Elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • USGS topo map: Yucaipa
  • More information: Here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Zanja Peak, the highest point in the Crafton Hills at 3,543 feet, can be reached by several routes.  The short but steep approach from Oak Glen Road has already been written up on this site, so on this post we’ll look at the longer route from the west, using the Thunderbird Trail and Hilltop Trail. Except for a very steep push to the summit, most of the hike is at a pleasantly moderate grade.

0:08 - Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail

0:08 – Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail

From the corner of 13th St. and Chapman Heights, head west briefly and pick up the Thunderbird Trail. You cross a small wooden footbridge and begin your ascent, weaving in and out of two shallow canyons. After 1.2 miles of moderate ascent, you reach a four-way junction. Turn right and follow the trail up a ridge. This is not the “official” Crafton Hills Ridge Trail but it’s a more interesting and challenging route. (You can continue straight along the Thunderbird Trail for a short distance to meet the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail, a fire road.)

0:31-  View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)

0:31- View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)

From the top of the ridge, a steep descent brings you to the fire road. Though the road makes a few switchbacks, you can save a few minutes by following a use trail that continues the steep descent into the valley, passing by a lone oak ideally situated for a resting spot.

0:35 - View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road

0:35 – View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road

After rejoining the fire road, you continue to head east, enjoying good views of Redlands, Mentone and the San Bernardino Mountains on the left and the Yucaipa area on the right. You may get a glimpse of Old Sadddleback behind Box Springs Mountain.

At 3.4 miles, a bench makes another scenic rest spot; you get a good aerial view of Mill Creek and might see cars passing by on Highway 38, far below. At 4 miles, keep an eye out for a break heading sharply uphill. Bear right and climb 0.2 miles, gaining about 250 feet, to the summit.

1:20 - View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head

1:20 – View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head

From here you get a panoramic view of San Bernardino and San Gorgonio; San Jacinto; the Palomars; the San Gabriels and more, pending of course, good visibility. You can retrace your steps or if you’ve set up a shuttle, you can descend to one of several other trail heads.

1:40 - Bear right on the spur to the summit

1:40 – Bear right on the spur to the summit

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:50 - Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)

1:50 – Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)

Tin Mine Canyon

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Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Tin Mine Canyon

  • Location: Corona.  From the south, take I-15 to El Cerrito.  Turn left and go a total of 4.4 miles on El Cerrito, which becomes Foothill Parkway.  At Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park on Foothill Parkway facing east in one of the few spots designated for the Skyline Trail.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Lincoln Exit and head south (left if you’re coming from the west, right if from Riverside) and go 2.6 miles to Foothill Parkway.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to the intersection with Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park where available facing east on Foothill Parkway.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps:  Corona South
  • Recommended gear: Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here;  Yelp page here; Meetup page with photos and trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Located on the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains, just beyond the fringes of Corona’s residential neighborhoods, Tin Mine Canyon feels pleasantly secluded and rugged.  Highlights include a seasonal stream, geology, live oaks and sycamores, good mountain views and, yes, an abandoned tin mine.

0:26 - Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

0:26 – Trees near the beginning of the Tin Mine Canyon Trail (times are approximate)

The actual Tin Mine Canyon trail can be accessed by walking just over a mile on the Skyline Trail.  When the Skyline Trail makes a hairpin right turn, begin hiking on the Tin Mine Canyon trail just past an information board.  The trail quickly leaves civilization behind as it heads east into the canyon.   You cross the stream bed several times, generally keeping the bottom of the canyon on your left.  A bench beneath a large oak makes for a good rest spot.

0:28 - Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

0:28 – Bear left and head across the stream bed, deeper into the canyon

At 1.7 miles, the canyon narrows and the trail clings to the rock wall on the left.  You’ll pass by the sealed off entrance to the tin mine.  The trail then passes by a dramatic cluster of oaks beneath a tall pink sandstone wall before re-emerging into the open, where you get some nice views of the hills above.

0:48 - The mine

0:48 – The mine

Farther up, the trail continues to weave in and out of the stream bed; you may well see at least some water by this point.  Keep an eye out for poison oak as you make your way deeper into the canyon.  The thick vegetation and tight canyon walls lock in much of the moisture from the stream, making the air surprisingly humid.

0:52 - Oaks and sandstone

0:52 – Oaks and sandstone

At about 2 1/4 miles from the start, you reach the end of the official trail.  A little bit of rock scrambling will bring you to a pleasant grotto where water trickles down a 5-foot rock face into a pool.  This makes a good turnaround point although intrepid hikers can continue up the canyon, eventually reaching all the way up to Main Divide Road.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM JOEL ROBINSON OF WWW.NATURALISTFORYOU.ORG:

 In the spring, Tin Mine creek is a convenient place to observe California newts, a species of salamander that requires a healthy riparian (natural stream) ecosystem to survive.  Wild grape vines, blackberry, bigleaf maple, bay laurel, cottonwoods, alder, and willow occur in the shadier spots where there is a higher water table.  Various species of mountain lilac (Ceanothus sp.) bloom white and lavender over the emerald slopes of mature chaparral.  Canyon sweet pea, yellow bush penstemon, stinging lupine, Matilija poppy, and other showy wildflowers can also be see in the spring.  Be mindful of the poison oak, which grows in abundance along the creek, especially near the waterfalls.

0:55 - End of the trail

0:55 – End of the trail

The USFS closed the mine entrances with metal grates to preserve wildlife habitat for cave dwelling organisms, such as Monterey ensatina (lungless salamander), tree frogs, and bats.  Supposedly, the only real tin came from the Cajalco Tin Mine near Lake Matthews in the Gavilan Hills.

1:00 - Waterfall shortly past the trail's end; turnaround point for the hike

1:00 – Waterfall shortly past the trail’s end; turnaround point for the hike

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

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Sunset over Old Saddleback from the Big C

Sunset and Old Saddleback from the Big “C”

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big "C"

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big “C”

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Northeast Riverside at the end of Big Springs Road, by Islander Park.  From San Bernardino, Los Angeles or Orange County, take the 60/I-215 freeway  to the 3rd St/Blaine St. exit.  Turn left and follow 3rd, which immediately becomes Blaine, a mile to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn left and drive 0.4 miles to the end of Big Springs Road and park where available on the south (right) side of the street.  Note the parking restrictions.  From the east, take the 60/I-215 freeway to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Mt. Vernon.  Bear right and go 0.6 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn right and drive 0.2 miles to the end of the road.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside East
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Map My Hike report here; unflinching account of the vandalism on the trail here
  • Rating: 5

You already know how to reach the big “M” on the south slope of Box Springs Mountain, so in this post, we’ll look at the short–but very steep–hike to the big “C” on the mountain’s west side.  Sadly, there’s a lot of graffiti and trash, but on clear days hike provides one of the Inland Empire’s best 180-degree views.

0:00 - Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike almost came in at PG-13 due to its unrelenting steepness, often loose and difficult terrain and tricky route-finding, but anyone who’s reasonably active and allows themselves enough time shouldn’t have a problem.  Hiking poles will be a huge help.  There is an actual Google Maps-recognized Big C trail, although many other routes have been blazed across the mountain’s western slope.  Your exact route up and down may vary, but the trail’s popularity makes it hard to get too lost; when in doubt you shouldn’t have a problem finding other hikers to follow. With a western exposure, the hike can be done even on hot days with an early enough start and it’s also an excellent place to watch the sunset, although make sure you allow enough daylight to safely negotiate the steep slope.

0:03 - Look both ways (times are approximate)

0:03 – Look both ways (times are approximate)

Start just before the end of Big Springs Road by bearing left on a trail leading up to the railroad tracks. After crossing them you begin your ascent. Typically, you will choose between steep, eroded wash-like breaks and slightly less steep single-track. The first occurs on the east side of the railroad tracks. After the single-track reunites with the steeper route, the ascent continues, heading generally southeast. You can take advantage of a strip of grass running up the middle of the path which may help give you traction.

0:06 - Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

0:06 – Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

At about 0.3 miles, you reach another split where the trails briefly separate before rejoining. The left route is slightly less steep. You soon reach a ridge (about 0.5 miles) where the trail levels out briefly. Here you may be encouraged by a glimpse of the top half of the “C” off to your left.

0:15 - Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

0:15 – Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

At another split, you can choose between a steep but not too difficult climb up some rocks (left) or a single-track branching off to the right. The two trails meet just below the “C”. Make your final scramble up to the marker, where despite huge amounts of graffiti–some rather graphic in nature–you can enjoy an excellent view of the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Gabriels, and the Inland Valley. You get a nearly aerial perspective on the immediate neighborhood, some thousand feet below.

0:30 - Junction below the C (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

0:30 – Junction below the “C” (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

If you still have feeling in your legs, you can continue past the “C” to connect with other trails in Box Springs Mountain Park. It’s even possible to make it to the “M”, which is about three miles farther and 900 feet higher.

The “C” honors nearby University of California Riverside. Several UC campuses feature giant “C” markers. This “C” is the highest of all of them, at about 2,100 feet. It was completed in 1957 and at the time was the largest (132 feet tall by 70 feet wide) poured concrete block letter of its kind in the world.

0:40 - Respect the C

0:40 – Be a man: Respect the “C”

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

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Palm tree at Jane's Hoffbrau Oasis

Palm tree at Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

View of greater Palm Springs on the way back from the oasis

View of greater Palm Springs on the way back from the oasis

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

  • Location: Behind the Elks Lodge at 67491 East Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City.  From I-10, take the Palm Drive/Gene Autry Trail exit.  Turn right on Gene Autry Trail and go 6.1 miles to East Palm Canyon Drive.  (Along the way, the route becomes CA Highway 111).  Turn left and go 0.8 miles to Elks Drive, just before a big shopping center.  Turn right and park in the lot in back of the lodge.
  • Agency: Santa Rosa/San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Cathedral City”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: All Trails page here; trip description (all the way to Murray Hill) here
  • Rating: 5
0:00 - Start of the hike behind the Elks Lodge (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike behind the Elks Lodge (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Located in a narrow canyon near the heart of Palm Springs, Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis is named for Jane Lykken Hoff, former president of the Desert Riders equestrian group.  And no, sadly, despite the name, no brewed beverages are available here (although you can grab a cold one after the hike at any of several restaurants at the nearby shopping center.)

0:07 - Turn left on the dirt road atop the ridge and head uphill (times are approximate)

0:07 – Turn left on the dirt road atop the ridge and head uphill (times are approximate)

The oasis itself is a cozy, quiet little spot and the route features panoramic views of Palm Springs, but the first half of the hike is, to be blunt, rather unpleasant. If you don’t mind taking one for the team, the second half of this hike is enjoyable, and you can easily extend your trip on the network of trails that lace the area.

0:18 - Ascend the single-track leading up from the dirt road

0:18 – Ascend the single-track leading up from the dirt road

From the far corner parking area behind the Elks Lodge, enter a gully and prepare to climb over boulders and trash. The ascent is more unattractive than it is difficult; just keep making your way up over the rocks toward the ridge line. No excessively strenuous climbing is required, although the ascent to the top is very steep in spots. Hikers with small kids might want to take extra caution.

0:22 - Junction with the dirt road; follow the single-track down into the canyon

0:22 – Junction with the dirt road; follow the single-track down into the canyon

After a tenth of a mile (though it seems longer), you reach the top of the gully, where you continue to a dirt road (signed as the Goat Trails on some maps). Head left and uphill. The scenery becomes marginally better here, though it still may feel as if you’re walking through a landfill. You get some good views of pointy Murray Hill straight ahead.

0:30 - Getting close....

0:30 – Getting close….

At 0.6 miles, you reach a junction. Both forks soon meet again but the left fork will get you to the oasis more quickly. You descend to another junction where you will stay straight and begin climbing on a single-track.

At 0.8 miles from the start, the single-track rejoins the dirt road. A few yards to your right, look for another single-track leading down into the canyon. This is the payoff: the trail descends in dramatic fashion along the edge of the canyon, past outcrops of rocks, yielding views similar to Joshua Tree National Park’s Fortynine Palm Oasis hike. You reach another fork where you will bear left and descend further, passing a sign welcoming you to the oasis. After a few switchbacks you reach the bottom of the canyon and the oasis itself, where you can relax in the shade of the palms. A dry waterfall site marks the top of the oasis. From here, you can retrace your steps or explore some of the other trails.

0:40 - Dry waterfall at the back of Jane's Hoffbrau Oasis

0:40 – Dry waterfall at the back of Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

Towers Loop (Box Springs Mountain Park)

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San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Peaks from Box Springs Mountain Park

San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Peaks from Box Springs Mountain Park

Grassy field on the Edison Trail

Grassy field on the Edison Trail

Towers Loop (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Box Springs Mountain Park, Moreno Valley.  From the 60 Freeway, take the Frederick St./Pigeon Pass Road exit and head north (right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) for 3.9 miles.  Just after the road bends to the west, stay straight to continue onto Box Springs Mountain Road.  Go 1.3 miles on Box Springs Mountain Road (it becomes dirt after 0.6 miles, but it’s in good condition and won’t present an issue).  Enter the park and pull into the lot signed for day use.  Day use fees are $5 per vehicle and $2 for each pet.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside; San Bernardino South
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Yelp page here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Fence at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This loop explores the south end of Box Springs Mountain Park, passing by – as its name suggests – several radio towers.  While the Two Trees and Big C trails provide nice views of the San Gabriels and the hike to the “M” features views to the east of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto, you’ll get to see all of the above from this loop. Unfortunately the views are often diminished by the smog, and the park suffers from depressing amounts of graffiti, but Box Springs is a valuable Inland Empire recreational resource, conveniently located to San Bernardino and Riverside and well worth a visit.

0:03 - Bear left on the Spring Trail (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left on the Spring Trail (times are approximate)

There are several possible variations on this loop but the basic idea is to head southeast toward the towers, loop around them and return via either of two trails. From the parking area, head south on the fire road to a junction where you’ll bear right on the Springs Trail, a single-track. It heads steadily uphill, reaches a vista point with a bench and then descends, rejoining the service road (0.5 miles.) Turn left and continue your climb, getting a good look at San Gorgonio and San Bernardino on the way up.

0:15 - Rejoin the service road and head left

0:15 – Rejoin the service road and head left

At 1.5 miles you reach a junction. Make a hard right (the left fork continues to the “M”) and pass by the antennas. If the air is clear you’ll get a good aerial view of Moreno Valley with the Santa Ana Mountains distant. In a quarter mile you come to another junction where you’ll turn right, heading toward yet another antenna cluster.

0:38 - Turn right and head toward the antennas

0:38 – Turn right and head toward the antennas

When the service road meets the last antenna (2 miles), turn left on a rough-looking trail heading downhill. The Hidden Springs Trail is a single-track that switchbacks down the west side of the mountain, providing more of a wilderness feel than the fire roads. You pass by some interesting geological outcrops with great views of the San Gabriels in front of you.

0:45 - Another right turn, another antenna

0:45 – Another right turn, another antenna

At 2.6 miles, you reach a T-junction. You can shorten your hike by heading right on a service road, but to make the route a little more interesting, head left and follow the dirt road to a junction with the Edison Trail (2.8 miles.) Turn right and follow the single track Edison Trail through a shallow canyon. Despite the power lines overhead, this last stretch has the most remote feel of any in the loop. You pass by jumbles of rocks and into an open field before making a final steep descent back to the parking lot.

0:55 - View of Mt. Baldy at the junction with the Hidden Springs Trail (turn left and begin your descent)

0:55 – View of Mt. Baldy at the junction with the Hidden Springs Trail (turn left and begin your descent)

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:11 - Right turn on the Edison Trail

1:16 – Right turn on the Edison Trail

Indian Mountain

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Looking southwest from Indian Mountain's summit

Looking southwest from Indian Mountain’s summit

Old Saddleback and the San Gabriels from the road to Indian Mountain

Old Saddleback and the San Gabriels from the road to Indian Mountain

Indian Mountain

    • Location:  San Jacinto Mountains north of Idyllwild.  From I-10, take Highway 243 southeast for a total of 15.8 miles to the Indian Vista parking turnout on the right side of the road, just past mile marker 14.0 and about half a mile past Lake Fulmor.  (If you’re coming from the west, make sure you follow the turns to stay on Highway 243 off the freeway).  Although the trail is on San Bernardino National Forest land, at no point is any requirement of an Adventure Pass mentioned.
    • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Idyllwild Ranger Station
    • Distance: 5.8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time:  3 hours
    • Best season: October (or first winter rain) – June (closed from July – first winter rain)
    • USGS topo map:  Lake Fulmor
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
    • More information: Trip report here, Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - View of Indian Mountain from the start of the hike, Highway 243 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of Indian Mountain from Highway 243(click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable hike visits one of the most westerly of the major San Jacinto summits.  At 5,790 feet, Indian Mountain isn’t high enough to have the Sierra-like feel of the taller San Jacinto area peaks, but it still offers excellent views of almost all of So Cal.

0:31 - At the bottom of the hill, before the main ascent (times are approximate)

0:31 – Bottom of the hill, beginning of the main ascent (times are approximate)

The fire road (4S21) starts a few dozen yards north of the parking area. The hike begins easily enough with 1.3 miles of descent. You’ll see Indian Mountain’s rounded, forested bump in front of you. The trail makes a few switchbacks, providing great views of San Jacinto Peak and its neighboring summits.  Below you get a nice aerial perspective on the deep canyon carved by the north fork of the San Jacinto River.

0:41 - Looking south from the fire road

0:41 – Looking south from the fire road

At 1.3 miles, you reach the low point of the hike and begin the ascent, climbing about 900 feet over the next mile and a half. A substantial portion of the ascent is shaded by pines and black oaks, although there are a few exposed spots.

1:05 - Stay left at the junction below the summit

1:05 – Stay left at the junction below the summit

At 2.7 miles, stay left as a spur branches off. Soon after you reach the high point of the road, just south of the peak. Follow any of several informal trails to the top. There may be some bushwhacking involved, but nothing too strenuous. A cluster of boulders marks the highest point on Indian Mountain where you can climb as high as you want and enjoy excellent views of San Gorgonio, the San Gabriels, the Santa Anas, Thomas Mountain, the Palomars and if visibility is good, the ocean.

1:10 - Leave the fire road at its highest point and scramble toward the summit

1:10 – Leave the fire road at its highest point and scramble toward the summit

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:15 - Boulders on the summit of Indian Mountain

1:15 – Boulders on the summit of Indian Mountain

Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)

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Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)

  • Location: East of Palm Springs, Coachella Valley.  From I-10, take the Bob Hope Drive exit.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn left and go 4.8 miles to Thousand Palms Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 1.8 miles to a turnout on the right side of the road. This is the trailhead but you can also visit the visitor’s center, a little farther down the road, for more information.  Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency:  Coachella Valley Preserve
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – March
  • USGS topo map: “Myoma”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information:  Preserve homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The expansive (over 20,000 acres) preserve features several oases of wild California Fan palms, the only palm species native to California, which can live up to 250 years.  With 25 miles of trails, there are plenty of options for hiking (or horseback riding, which is popular here).  The route described in this post is based on the entry in “Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire”, visiting three of the palm groves and taking in some nice views of the San Jacinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains. There are a few spots where the terrain is somewhat rough and navigation can be a little tricky, although the trails are well signed for the most part and well used; odds are there will be footprints to point you in the right direction. Several small washes cross the valley but the trails typically just go right through them and continue on the other side.

0:05 - The stairs (times are approximate)

0:05 – The stairs (times are approximate)

From the parking area just south of the visitor center, follow the signs for the Pushwalla Trail. The trail heads southeast toward a steep staircase cut into a ridge known as Bee Rock Mesa. After climbing the stairs you reach a junction with the Hidden Palms Trail, your return route.

0:07 - Junction at the top of the stairs; turn left on the Pushwalla Trail

0:07 – Junction at the top of the stairs; turn left on the Pushwalla Trail

Bear left and continue your ascent, following what might be described as the Coachella Valley’s version of Mt. Baldy’s Devil’s Backbone. The trail cuts along the narrow top of the ridge; hiking poles aren’t necessary but they may provide some security for hikers who are sensitive to heights.

0:36 - Descending toward the first junction (stay right and on the ridge)

0:36 – Descending toward the first junction (stay right and on the ridge)

A mile of ups and downs brings you to a junction. Both forks lead to the Pushwalla grove, but the quicker route is to stay right. You climb again and then make a twisting, roller coaster-like descent off the ridge to another junction (1.8 miles from the start.)

0:47 - Descending into the canyon toward the Pushwalla Palms

0:47 – Descending into the canyon toward the Pushwalla Palms

Turn left and begin a mile-long detour to the Pushwalla Palms. The trail drops into a narrow slot canyon; the terrain is rugged but not too hazardous. Following the canyon, you reach the south end of the grove. Turn north and head toward the main group of pines (2.3 miles). The trail continues, eventually looping back toward Bee Rock Mesa, but to follow the route as described in the guidebook, retrace your steps to the junction.

0:55 - Main grove at Pushwalla; turnaround point for the spur

0:55 – Main grove at Pushwalla; turnaround point for the spur

Back on the main trail, continue south for a short distance before making a sharp right turn (look for a sign) toward the Horseshoe Palms. You pass by this grove, meeting up with a jeep trail (3.2 miles.) Bear right and head west, then south, toward Hidden Palms.

1:15  - Take a sharp right and head toward the Horseshoe Pines

1:15 – Take a sharp right and head toward the Horseshoe Pines

At 3.9 miles, you make another right turn to reach the Hidden Palms Oasis. The dirt road continues northwest past the palms, although you can wander among them as you like. Past the oasis, the trail becomes a single-track, signed for the visitor’s center.

You climb out of the canyon on the single-track, staying left at the first two junctions.  At the third, shortly before you reach some power lines, bear right and complete the loop by returning to the junction with the Pushwalla Trail.  Descend the steps and return to the parking area.

1:50 - Hidden Palms Oasis

1:50 – Hidden Palms Oasis

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

2:20 - Bear right at the fork before the power lines and return to the junction at Bee Rock Mesa

2:20 – Bear right at the fork before the power lines and return to the junction at Bee Rock Mesa

Sierra Peak

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Looking east toward San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Sierra Peak

Looking east toward San Gorgonio and San Jacintofrom Sierra Peak

Skyline Drive, the route to Sierra Peak

Descending from Sierra Peak via Skyline Drive

Sierra Peak

  • Location: Corona.  From the south, take I-15 to El Cerrito.  Turn left and go a total of 4.4 miles on El Cerrito, which becomes Foothill Parkway.  At Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park on Foothill Parkway facing east in one of the few spots designated for the Skyline Trail.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Lincoln Exit and head south (left if you’re coming from the west, right if from Riverside) and go 2.6 miles to Foothill Parkway.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to the intersection with Trudy Drive, make a U-turn and park where available facing east on Foothill Parkway.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 15 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,000 feet
  • Suggested time: 7 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: November – March
  • USGS topo maps: Black Star Canyon, Corona South
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip description here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Beginning of Skyline Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Sierra Peak (elevation 3,045) is the northernmost major summit of the Santa Ana Mountains.  On clear days, the views both on the ascent and at the summit are outstanding.  Though it requires significant endurance to reach the summit, the terrain and navigation couldn’t be easier, making this a good training hike.

From the parking area, follow the paved Skyline Drive trail south then west around the back of a residential neighborhood. While this first part of the hike is less than truly inspiring, once you leave the houses behind at half a mile, passing by a metal gate into Cleveland National Forest land, the terrain becomes more scenic as you make your way up Tin Mine Canyon.

0:25 - Heading up Tin Mine Canyon on Skyline Drive past the metal gate (times are approximate)

0:15 – Heading up Tin Mine Canyon on Skyline Drive past the metal gate (times are approximate)

At just over a mile, Skyline Drive makes a sharp right turn and begins its ascent. For the next 3.3 miles, it winds along the side of a ridge, alternately providing nice views of the Inland Empire and all three major ranges (San Gabriels, San Bernardinos and San Jacintos) and of the Santa Anas themselves. As you make your way higher, you’ll see the ridgeline of Main Divide Road.

0:25 - Beginning of the ascent past the Tin Mine Canyon turnoff

0:25 – Beginning of the ascent past the Tin Mine Canyon turnoff

At 4.3 miles, the trail dips down to a saddle before climbing back to reach a junction called Oak Flat, with several communications towers (5 miles.) Head right on Main Divide Road, threading your way between two parcels of private land. For the next 2.5 miles, the trail continues to follow a ridge. Although Sierra Peak is only 350 feet higher than Oak Flat, several significant ups and downs along the way add up to over 1,000 feet of total elevation gain coming and going.

1:00 - View of the San Gabriels from Skyline Drive

1:00 – View of the San Gabriels from Skyline Drive

The great views to the east continue, and if you’re lucky you may get a glimpse of Catalina Island. You’ll also likely notice Sierra Peak’s antenna-covered summit ahead of you to the north. At 6.6 miles, stay straight as another fire road branches off to the left. You make a significant drop to a saddle and then one final climb to a short spur leading to the summit.

2:00 - Oak Flat; turn right on Main Divide

2:10 – Oak Flat; turn right on Main Divide

As on Santiago Peak, the antennas block the view, but it’s still possible to find places to sit and enjoy the panorama. You get a nearly aerial perspective on the Chino Hills and north Orange County, with the 91 Freeway slipping by below.  After resting your legs return via the same route.

2:30 - View of Catalina Island and Orange County from Main Divide

2:30 – View of Catalina Island and Orange County from Main Divide

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

3:05 - Summit of Sierra Peak (looking west)

3:15 – Summit of Sierra Peak (looking west)

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

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Looking west from the Yucca Ridge Trail

Looking west from the Yucca Ridge Trail

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

  • Location: Morongo Valley.  From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 11.3 miles.  Turn right on East Drive (signed for Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.)  Go 0.2 miles and turn left into the park on Covington Drive.
  • Agency: Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Best season:  October – May, 7:30am – sunset
  • USGS topo map: “Morongo Valley”
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trip description here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Boardwalk at the beginning of the Marsh Trail, Big Morongo Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Boardwalk at the beginning of the Marsh Trail, Big Morongo Canyon (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

There aren’t many short hikes that provide mountain and desert views–as well as wetlands–but this loop around the perimeter of Big Morongo Canyon is one such trip. The preserve makes a nice stop on the way to the northern entrances to Joshua Tree. Visitors who want more of a workout can find a nearly 10-mile round trip with the Canyon Trail.

0:06 - Turning right onto the Mesquite Trail (times are approximate)

0:06 – Turning right onto the Mesquite Trail (times are approximate)

This route is one of several possible loops in the preserve. The trails are all well marked and easy to follow, so it’s impossible to get too lost. From the main entrance, turn right on the Marsh Trail. You pass by the education center and come to an intersection. Turn right on the Mesquite Trail, which dips down to the stream and comes out again, reaching a junction with the West Canyon Trail (0.4 miles from the start.) You can extend your hike on the West Canyon Trail but this route continue straight on the Mesquite Trail, into a tight-walled canyon.

0:12 - Geology on the Mesquite Trail past the junction with the West Canyon Trail

0:12 – Geology on the Mesquite Trail past the junction with the West Canyon Trail

After passing the remains of a car and reaching a T-junction with the Canyon Trail, head left, deeper into the wetlands. You pass a short spur that leads to a viewing area and then reach a junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail. Continue straight onto this trail, beginning the only significant climb of the hike. You reach a view point with a bench where you can look west toward the San Gorgonio Pass.

0:18 - Through the wetlands before the junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail

0:18 – Through the wetlands before the junction with the Yucca Ridge Trail

The Yucca Ridge trail heads north before dropping down to the wetlands. You reach a junction with the Desert Willow Trail (1.3 miles). Turn right and follow the Desert Willow Trail through more marsh, into a field and finally back to the Marsh Trail. Turn right and follow the boardwalk back to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

0:39 - Right turn at the junction with the Desert Willow Trail

0:39 – Right turn at the junction with the Desert Willow Trail, back to the parking area

Chaparrosa Peak (Pioneertown Mountains Preserve/Pipes Canyon)

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Burnt Pinyon Pine on the trail to Chaparossa Peak

Burnt Pinyon Pine on the trail to Chaparossa Peak

High desert geology on the way to Chaparrosa Peak

High desert geology on the way to Chaparrosa Peak

Chaparrosa Peak (Pioneertown Mountains Preserve/Pipes Canyon)

  • Location: High desert near Yucca Valley.  From I-10, take Highway 62 northeast for 20 miles.  Turn left on Pioneertown Road and go northwest for 7.5 miles.  At a four-way intersection, take a left on dirt Pipes Canyon Road and drive 0.7 miles to the park entrance.  Bear right and drive an additional 0.2 miles into the parking area.
  • Agency: Wildlands Conservancy/Pioneertown Mountains Preserve
  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, terrain, navigation)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – May; trail open 8am – 5pm
  • USGS topo map: “Rim Rock”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information:  Trip description here; Everytrail report here; photos and maps from the loop version of the hike (currently inaccessible) here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Beginning of the hike, leaving the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike, leaving the parking area (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

It may be a long drive from L.A., but Chaparrosa Peak is well worth the trip.  It offers a hiking experience similar to that of Joshua Tree National Park, nearby Warren Peak in particular.  Highlights include mountain views, jumbled rock formations and great panoramas of the high desert.  The hike isn’t too difficult but navigation and terrain are tricky, so novice hikers might not want to do this one alone.  The trail is also almost completely exposed and the area is susceptible to high winds.

0:04 - Beginning of the Chaparrosa Trail (times are approximate)

0:04 – Beginning of the Chaparrosa Trail (times are approximate)

It used to be possible to climb Chaparossa Peak as a loop hike, but as of this writing the Indian Loop trail is closed for repairs, so your only option is a 5.6-mile out and back (park literature has the distance at 6.6 miles, but Everytrail measured it as 5.6)

After signing in at the ranger station, head uphill on a dirt road leading from the parking area. After a short distance you come to a staging area where you will see a sign for the Chaparrosa Peak Trail. The single-track dips in and out of a canyon before climbing to join a dirt road (about 0.5 miles.) You ascend steadily, enjoying nice views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Pioneertown to the south, passing two gates (0.7 and 0.9 miles respectively). To navigate around the second gate, climb uphill briefly to the end of the fence before continuing on the road.

0:39 - Turn right on the single-track

0:39 – Turn right on the single-track

At 1.3 miles, head right and uphill on a trail leading away from the dirt road (GPS N34 09.632, W116 33.034). You begin a challenging ascent over loose terrain. The trail isn’t always clear; keep an eye out for the ducks. After gaining 200 feet in less than a quarter mile, the trail levels out and you’re rewarded for your efforts with some great views of the desert to the north. The trail descends briefly and climbs again to a junction (2.1 miles, GPS N34 39.331, W116 33.627). Head left on a spur signed for Chaparrosa Peak.

1:15 - Trail ducks on the cutoff trail to Chaparossa Peak; turn right and follow the ridge to the summit

1:15 – Trail ducks on the cutoff trail to Chaparossa Peak; turn right and follow the ridge to the summit

The trail becomes tougher to follow as it works its way through a wash, heading south to a ridge where it makes a sharp right turn (2.5 miles).  You begin the final steep ascent to the summit, passing by a large rock that resembles an oven mitt.  Finally you reach the peak (elevation 5,541; GPS N34 38.990, W116 33.845), where you can enjoy a 360-degree panorama, including San Jacinto, the eastern end of the San Bernardino range and the Mojave Desert to the north.

1:22 - "Cookies are done!"

1:22 – “Cookies are done!”

If you enjoyed this hike, be sure to check out some of the other open spaces overseen by the Wildlands Conservancy, such as the nearby Whitewater Canyon Preserve and Oak Glen Preserve.

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.

1:30 - San Jacinto above the clouds, looking southwest from Chaparossa Peak

1:30 – San Jacinto above the clouds, looking southwest from Chaparossa Peak

Wiashal & Cole Canyon Trails (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)

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View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

View from the upper end of the Wiashal Trail

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

Oak woodland below the Wiashal Trail, Cole Canyon

Wiashal & Cole Canyon Trails (Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve)

  • Location: Murrieta.  From I-15, take the Clinton Keith exit and head southwest (turn left if you’re coming from the south, right if you’re coming from the north) and go 1.7 miles to Calle del Oso Oro.  Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Clear Creek St.  Turn right and go 0.2 miles to miles to Placer Creek St. Turn left and go 0.1 miles to the end of the street and turn right on Single Oak Way.  Park at the end of Single Oak Way.  The trail begins on the north side of the street.
  • Agency:  Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG-13 (Steepness, terrain, elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Wildomar”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Every trail report here; hike description here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead on Single Oak Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead on Single Oak Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Murrieta’s Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is best known for its rolling hills, oak woodlands, historic adobes and (in the spring) the vernal pools, but the Wiashal Trail showcases the park’s wilder side.  With steep ascents and descents over frequently rugged terrain, this hike is considerably more challenging than most of the other routes in the reserve.  It loses some points due to the unfortunate amounts of trash and graffiti in the lower areas of the trail, and due to a somewhat monotonous upper end and anticlimactic finish at Clinton Keith Road, but the trail is still a great workout with a lot of scenic variety; a must do if you live in the area and a worthwhile place to drive to from Orange County or San Diego. The hike is popular as a point-to-point with a fairly easy to set up car shuttle. Mountain bikers and equestrians are also common on this trail.

0:08 - Indian motreros (times are approximate)

0:08 – Indian motreros by the trail (times are approximate)

There are several informal trails in this area that lead to the beginning of the Cole Canyon Trail and later the Wiashal Trail, but the route described here is scenic and direct, fairly easy to follow. From the end of Single Oak, follow a gravel trail briefly north before taking a hairpin turn to the left, heading south. The trail splits (both paths rejoin, but the left route descends more gently. Stay right at two junctions and enter a pleasant oak woodland, about half a mile from the start. Keep an eye out for a rock with two “motreros” (small round holes) carved inside, on the left side of the trail.

0:30 - Sign for Cole Canyon; trail heads left and uphill

0:30 – Sign for Cole Canyon; trail heads left and uphill

After leaving the clearing, the trail starts a short but steep ascent and begins heading north. You drop into another canyon (1 mile) and arrive at a junction where you will bear left, passing by a sign indicating Cole Canyon. Now the work begins: 700 feet of elevation gain in the next mile. After passing a sign and fence indicating the beginning of the Wiashal Trail (1.3 miles), the grade mellows a little bit. The views of the Murrieta area–extending to the San Jacinto range on clear days–are better and better as you climb higher.

0:37 - Start of the Wiashal Trail

0:37 – Start of the Wiashal Trail

At 1.9 miles, you reach a T-junction where you get a nice aerial view of Clinton Keith Road where you will turn left. The trail ascends sharply, reaching a short spur that leads to an overlook (2.3 miles.) The overlook is a good destination for those who want a shorter hike; at this point, you have achieved most of the workout and experienced the best scenery of the trip.

0:55 - View of Clinton Keith Road from the T-junction (turn left)

0:55 – View of Clinton Keith Road from the T-junction (turn left)

However if you want to continue to the end of the Wishal Trail, head downhill, watching your footing on the loose terrain (hiking poles will be helpful). As you descend, you get some nice views of the main area of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. The remaining mile-plus of the Wiashal Trail makes a couple of moderate ascents and descents before reaching its end, a parking area at Clinton Keith Road (and an alternate starting point).

1:50 - End of the Wiashal Trail at Clinton Keith Road

1:50 – End of the Wiashal Trail at Clinton Keith Road

In case you were wondering, the trail’s name is pronounced “WEE-uh-shawl.”

Text and photography copyright 2013 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.