Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

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

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

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

Agua Caliente Creek

Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:32 – Second trail camp by the creek

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

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

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

2:05 – Trail camp at the turnaround point

Horse Trail (Eaton Canyon Natural Area)

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Wildflowers, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

Wildflowers in Eaton Canyon

Pines on the Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

Pine grove near the top of the Horse Trail

Horse Trail (Eaton Canyon Natural Area)

  • Location: Pasadena. From the I-210 freeway, take the Altadena Drive exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.6 miles. The entrance to the park will beo n the right.
  • Agency: Eaton Canyon Nature Center; Angeles National Forest
  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
Eaton Canyon trail head, Pasadena, CA

0:00 – Horse Trail/Eaton Canyon Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Eaton Canyon Natural Area in Pasadena is best known as an access point for the lower end of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road and for its popular (and infamous) waterfall. However, hikers shouldn’t overlook the Horse Trail, which provides a short but vigorous workout with some panoramic mountain and city views. Best done on cool days with good visibility, the vistas from the Horse Trail include the Santa Monica Mountains, Catalina Island, Old Saddleback and a nearly aerial perspective on the residential areas of the north San Gabriel Valley.

Oaks in Eaton Canyon, Pasasdena, CA

0:09 – Oak woodlands (times are approximate)

The network of trails through and around the nature center invite meandering and exploring, but for the purposes of this post, the most direct route involves a pleasant 0.6 mile stroll along the park’s main trail followed by a climb of 0.6 miles on the Horse Trail to its upper end at the toll road. From the parking area, take the right trail (the left leads to a picnic area with water fountains for both human and canine hikers) and follow it past fields of spring flowers with the mountains making an impressive backdrop.

Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

0:18 – Start of the Horse Trail

At 0.25 miles, cross the stream (dry as of this writing) and enter a pleasant woodland, ignoring several trails that branch to the right. Continue north, ascending gradually, making your way in and out of pockets of oaks. Poison oak, while not hugely prevalent, is found along the sides of the trail. At 0.6 miles where the main route continues north toward the waterfall, turn right on the Horse Trail which begins its efficient climb up the canyon’s east wall. The trail is largely exposed, although a few pleasant spots do provide some shade. About half way up is a spot with some excellent views, including downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles as seen from the Horse Trail, Pasadena, CA

0:27 – View of Los Angeles from the Horse Trail

Shortly before the top of the trail, look for a pleasant pine grove (a miniature version of Henninger Flats, farther up the toll road). This is an excellent spot to sit and rest, especially if the day is hot. Between the trees, glimpses of downtown, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Signal Hill and more can be seen. Shortly beyond this point, the trail makes one final switchback before meeting the toll road. Ambitious hikers can continue uphill another two miles or so to Henninger Flats, while those who want some variety on the descent can make a loop by descending the toll road and following the Eaton Canyon Trail back to the nature center.

Mt. Wilson Toll Road as seen from the Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

0:40 – The Mt. Wilson Toll Road as seen from the top of the Horse Trail

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

Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

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Spring wildflowers, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Looking northwest from the Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Greenery at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Oaks and green grass on the Horseshoe Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

  • Location: Santa Ana Foothills east of Orange.  From the 55 freeway, take the Chapman Avenue exit and head east for 4.2 miles until you get to Jamboree Road.  Take a left on Jamboree and a right into the park.  From the north, take the Katella Avenue exit from the 55 freeway, head east and drive 4.6 miles to Jamboree and take a left (Katella becomes Villa Park and then Santiago Canyon Road on the way).  Parking is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.  For access to this hike, park in lot #7.
  • Agency: Irvine Regional Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Orange
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trip descriptions (slightly different routes) here, here and here
  • Rating: 5
Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Leaving parking lot #7; note the trail branching off on the right side of the road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

In addition to being Orange County’s oldest public park (1887), Irvine Regional Park is home to the O.C. Zoo, a miniature railroad, several nice picnic areas and for the purposes of this website, a number of hiking trails. The trails loop around the park, heading northwest to Santiago Oaks Regional Park and south to Peters Canyon Regional Park, making for endless possible routes of all lengths. While Irvine isn’t as isolated as Caspers, Whiting Ranch and some of Orange County’s other regional parks, it still offers a nice variety of scenery, a convenient escape from city life. Though it may be hot during the summer, the hills and distances are moderate enough for it to be considered a year-round hiking destination.

Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:04 – Turn left on the Horseshoe Loop Trail (times are approximate)

This post follows the route as described in “Afoot and Afield”, mainly utilizing the park’s popular Horseshoe Loop Trail; also the Toyon Trail and some paved service and access roads. Hikers on a tight time frame should be able to easily knock it off in an hour; those hiking with small kids or dogs (this is one of the few dog-friendly regional parks in O.C.) should allow an hour an a half to follow this route.

Bench at an overlook, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:21 – Overlook on the Horseshoe Loop Trail

From lot #7, head left on the paved road and pick up the trail on the right, heading uphill between two wooden fences. You soon reach a junction with the Horseshoe Loop Trail where you’ll turn left and then almost immediately left again as the Puma Ridge Trail heads uphill. Follow the Horseshoe Trail along a north-facing ridge, enjoying views of the Santa Ana Mountains. In the spring, the grass and wildflowers can be quite attractive and considering that you are only about one hundred feet above the basin of the park, the views are quite wide-ranging.

Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:32 – Rejoining the park road; trail follows parallel on the right

More climbing brings you to a vista point (0.8 miles) where you can sit on a bench beneath a pine or under a shade structure. From here, the trail descends to cross a private service road (1.1 miles) and soon after joins the main road, which it parallels for 0.2 miles to the last parking lot. The road, still paved but now closed to the public, heads north and then west, skirting the park’s boundary.

Rooster Rock, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:50 – Rooster Rock

At 1.8 miles, the northern branch of the Horseshoe Trail splits off to the right, heading uphill. Take a short detour to Rooster Rock, a sandstone formation likely named for its outcrops that resemble poultry beaks and combs. A pair of oaks provide nice shade beneath the rock while a few use trails allow the curious to explore the top of the formation, which offers a bird’s eye view of this area of the park.

After visiting Rooster Rock, head back and follow the Horseshoe Trail as it makes its way up a hillside to a junction. The two paths soon merge again, although the right fork climbs higher and offers better views. From here, the trail levels out, contouring along the north side of the park to a junction at 2.3 miles. This is the Toyon Trail, which descends to a shade structure and then follows a wooden staircase back down to the center of the park. Head right on the paved road and follow as it passes a picnic area, the railroad tracks and a small lake before ending at a T-junction. Turn right and follow the main road back to the parking area.

Shade structure at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

1:05 – Shade structure on the Toyon Trail

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

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

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

Sunset from Coquina Mine

Panoramic view of Las Llajas Canyon, Simi Valley, CA

Descending into Las Lllajas Canyon on the return

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

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

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

Las Llajas Trail Head, Simi Valley, CA

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

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

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

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

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

0:38 - Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

0:38 – Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

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

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

1:07 – Left turn at the T-junction

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

Steam shovel, Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

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

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

Willow Hole (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Sunlight at Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

Sunlight above Willow Hole

Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees on the Willow Hole Trail

Willow Hole  (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62 in the town of Joshua Tree (about 6 miles east of Yucca Valley, 27 miles east of I-10 and about 15 miles west of Twentynine Palms) take Park Blvd. (signed for the park) south, past the entrance booth, and drive for a total of 11.6 miles to the Boy Scout Trail Head. The park entrance fee is $15 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or $30 per vehicle for an annual pass. The America the Beautiful inter-agency pass ($80 per year) is also accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – April (day use only)
  • USGS topo map: “Indian Cove”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 7
Boy Scout Trail Head, start of the hike to Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

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

This long but nearly level hike travels through a wide plain filled with Joshua trees and jumbles of boulders, enters a wash and finally arrives at oasis-like Willow Hole. Some veteran hikers might find the flat stretches monotonous, but the scenic variety of the last mile is worth the journey.

View of San Gorgonio from the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:30 – View of San Gorgonio at the junction with the Willow Hole Trail

From the Keys West trail head, follow the Boy Scout Trail north for 1.2 miles. Along the way, look for San Gorgonio in the distance on the left. At a Y-junction, bear right on the trail signed for Willow Hole. It continues its flat course through the Joshua trees with the Wonderland of Rocks formation in the distance, for just over a mile.

Entering a wash on the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:57 – Entering the wash

At about 2.3 miles, you enter a wash where the vegetation becomes predominantly juniper trees. The trail bears right and briefly leaves the wash before re-entering it. There are a few rocks to climb over, though nothing too strenuous. Stay straight as another wash comes in from the right.

Leaving the wash on the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:05 – Leaving the wash

At 3.2 miles, you reach a wide sandy clearing.  On the left side, and narrow trail leads between the rocks. Follow it into a sandy branch of the wash, soon arriving at a majestic gateway formed by two towers of rocks. Soon after, you will see the trees of Willow Hole.

1:20 - Heading between the rocks, approaching Willow Hole

1:20 – Heading between the rocks, approaching Willow Hole

Here, you can relax beneath the shade and enjoy the peace and quiet before returning by the same route. If you go during a particularly wet winter you may find pools of water (or perhaps ice). Hikers wanting more of an adventure can continue through the wash for a more difficult 2.5 miles, eventually reaching Rattlesnake Canyon and Indian Cove.

Geology near Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

1:27 – “Gateway” to Willow hole

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

Trees and geology at Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

1:35 – Willow Hole

Piedras Pintadas Trail

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Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges from the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges as seen from the Piedras Pindatas Trail

Wildflowers, Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Spring wildflowers on the Piedras Pintadas Trail

Piedras Pintadas Trail

      • Location: Rancho Bernardo Community Tennis Club (part of Rancho Bernardo Community Park), 18402 W. Bernardo Drive, San Diego. From I-15, take the West Bernardo Drive/Pomadero Road exit. Turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north and follow West Bernardo Drive 0.5 miles to Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Turn right into the park, pass the Glassman Center and park where available near the tennis courts.
      • Agency: San Dieguito River Park
      • Distance: 3.3 miles (out and back with loop)
      • Elevation gain: 250 feet
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round
      • USGS topo map: Escondido
      • Recommended gear: sun hat
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Trip description (longer route) here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
Piedras Pintadas trail head, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

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

This section of the San Dieguito River Park was once inhabited by the Kumeyaay Indians who used the natural resources in and around Lake Hodges. Today hikers can enjoy views of Bernardo Mountain, Lake Hodges, spring flowers and a small seasonal waterfall, all the while learning about the area’s natural history from a series of interpretive plaques.

Information board on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:02 – Turn left at the info board (times are approximate)

There are multiple trails leading from the community center, making many different routes possible. The trip described here samples the area’s scenery. It’s short enough to squeeze in before or after work or as weekend excursion but can also be easily extended on any of several other trails that branch off.

Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:04 – Left turn at the junction

From the parking area, follow the signed Piedras Pintadas Trail north to a junction (0.1 miles.) At an information board, turn left (west), merge with another trail and make another left turn (0.2 miles), continuing to follow the sings for the Piedras Pindatas Trail. Stay straight at another junction and enter the wetlands of one of Lake Hodges’s inlets. Interpretive plaques identify the flora, including elderberry, wild cucumber and more. You cross a boardwalk and then a larger footbridge from which you get good views of Bernardo Mountain to the north and Battle Mountain, with its characteristic cross, to the east.

Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:10 – Battle Mountain as seen from the footbridge

On the opposite side of the bridge, bear right and follow the trail around the south edge of the lake. Though the noise of traffic from I-15 is still audible, by this point it is noticeably quieter than earlier. You pass by an impressive oak which unfortunately has been blocked off due to human encroachment. Soon after, you follow another inlet, where you are greeted with the pleasant surprise of a 15-foot seasonal waterfall (one mile from the start).

Seasonal waterfall on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:25 – Seasonal waterfall

The trail then enters more wetlands before emerging at a junction. Bear right and follow the trail to the beginning of the loop (1.2 miles.) The short loop can be hiked in either direction but by going clockwise, you get to save the best scenery for last. Follow the loop as it descends gradually, passing by a tall oak with a bench underneath where one can rest and enjoy a view of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain. Past the oak, stay right as the San Dieguito River Trail branches off to the left. You climb to the top of a ridge, weaving in and out of some large boulders, taking in some panoramic views before descending back to the start of the loop (2.1 miles.) Retrace your steps back to the community center.

Wetlands on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:30 – Wetlands

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

View from the top of the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

1:00 – View from the top of the loop

Bell Peak (Orange County)

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

Flag on top of Bell Peak

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

Looking southeast from the Bell View Trail

Bell Peak (Orange County)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oaks in the Santa Ana foothills, Orange County, CA

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

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

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

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

0:25 – Turnoff from the Bell View Trail

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

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

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

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

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

1:00 – Trabuco Canyon as seen from the summit

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