Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Summit of Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Looking northeast from Oakzanita Peak

Foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Fall foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail

Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 3.2 miles on Highway 79 to a small turnout on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 17 miles.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Oakzanita Peak as seen from the Lower Descanso Trail Head

Oakzanita Peak (elevation 5,054) is the southernmost major summit in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Panoramic views from the top and a good variety of scenery on the way up make it a superior hiking destination. The route is known both for fall foliage and spring wildflowers. While the views are best on clear, cool days, the summit can be quite windy so plan accordingly.

Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – Oakzanita Peak as seen from the East Mesa Fire Road

From the trail head, follow the Lower Descanso Creek Trail which follows–you guessed it–Lower Descanso Creek. Even when the creek is dry, the stroll through the oaks is enjoyable. After an easy 0.7 miles, during which you gain only about 200 feet, you reach the East Mesa Fire Road. Turn right and follow the road for a short distance, during which you get a nice view of Oakzanita Peak, towering above the meadow.

Take the Descanso Creek Trail, which dips down to the stream bed and then begins a steady climb along the north east slope of the mountain. As you climb, you get views of Cuyamaca Peak and later Stonewall Peak’s characteristic triangular shape comes into view.

View of Cuyamaca Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:52 – Cuyamaca Peak as seen from the Descanso Creek Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, a large granite outcrop provides a perfect rest spot with excellent views to the north and east. Farther up, you reach a junction (2.4 miles) where you get a good view to the south. Head right on the spur signed for Oakzanita Peak, making the switchbacks and climbing over a few rocks to reach the summit.

Trail to Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

1:00 – Approaching Oakzanita Peak from the top of the ridge

The views aren’t quite as dramatic as those of Stonewall Peak, but Oakzanita’s location does have the advantage of providing a true 360-degree perspective, due to its distance from Cuyamaca Peak. You can see the East and West Mesa, the Laguna Mountains and El Capitan. If visibility is particularly good you can see the ocean, the Coronado Islands, the Santa Ana Mountains and the Santa Rosa Mountains.

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.

Oakzanita Peak southwest view

1:20 – Looking southwest from Oakzanita Peak

Bear Divide Trail

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View from Bear Divide, western Angeles National Forest

Looking northwest from the top of Bear Divide

View from Santa Clara Divide Road, Angeles National Forest

View of the high desert from Santa Clara Divide Road

Bear Divide Trail

  • Location: Western Angeles National Forest between the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita Valley and Little Tujunga Canyon. From I-210 in Pacoima, take the Osborne St. exit. Cross the freeway on Foothill Blvd. and turn left on Osborne St. Follow it for 11.4 miles. (Osborne becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road) to the Bear Divide Picnic Area. Turn left on Santa Clara Truck Trail and follow it 0.2 miles and park in a dirt turnout on the right side of the road. From the 14 Freeway, exit at Placerita Canyon Road and follow it east for 5 miles to its end at Sand Canyon Road. Turn right on Sand Canyon, which becomes Little Tujunga Canyon, and follow it 3 miles to the Bear Divide Picnic Area. Turn right on Santa Clarita Truck Trail and follow it 0.2 miles to the turnout on the right. The unsigned trail starts right next to the road. Though no signage indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is needed to park here, most of the trail heads in the area do require it so if you have one, consider bringing it to be safe. Click here to purchase one.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: San Fernando
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Trip description here; video about the hike here
  • Rating: 7
Start of the Bear Divide Trail, Angeles National Forest

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

Considering its proximity to the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Fernando Valleys–and its excellent views of them–it’s surprising this trail isn’t better known. Adding to the appeal are the tall pines and black oaks on the north facing slope, providing welcome shade from the Antelope Valley heat.

Bear Divide Trail leading through chaparral, Angeles National Forest

0:03 – Right turn on the Bear Divide Trail (times are approximate)

Bear Divide is a ridge that stretches westward from Little Tujunga Canyon, rising above the San Fernando Valley to the south and the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys to the north. The unsigned Bear Divide Trail starts off inauspiciously with a steep climb up a loose and rocky incline. At just over a tenth of a mile (and 150 vertical feet of climbing) it bends to the right where it enters the shade of chaparral. A steep trail continues straight; intrepid hikers can use this as an alternative ascent or descent, making the hike into a loop.

Oak growing out of the rocks on the Bear Divide Trail, Angeles National Forest

0:19 – “Ninja oak!”

The trail follows the north side of the ridge, providing excellent views of the Santa Clarita Valley. The steep ascent continues before finally leveling off at about 0.4 miles from the start. Soon after you enter an attractive grove of black oaks and Coulter pines. Keep an eye out for one rogue black oak in particular, growing nearly sideways from the rocky ridge.

Footbridge on the Bear Divide Trail, Angeles National Forest

0:28 – Footbridge

Shortly before a mile, you cross a footbridge and soon after you begin a steep set of switchbacks. Fortunately you’re still in the shade, making the 400-plus feet of elevation gain in less than a mile more tolerable. The majestic pines make it seem as if you’re higher up than your actual altitude of about 3,400 feet.

Looking north from Santa Clarita Truck Trail, Angeles National Forest

0:51 – Looking north from Santa Clara Truck Trail

At 1.5 miles, you rejoin Santa Clara Truck Trail. Bear right and follow it past the fire station. At a junction where Santa Clarita heads downhill and continues west, follow the left fork to a high point (about 4,000 feet above sea level) on the ridge with several communications antennas. Just before a fence blocks the road, a trail leads a short distance to a big, flat summit where you can enjoy a panoramic view. If visibility is good, expect to see Catalina Island, the Hollywood Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Topatopa Mountains, the Liebre Mountains and more.

View of the San Fernando Valley from Santa Clara Truck Trail

1:01 – The San Fernando Valley from just past the fire station

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.

Looking southwest from the top of Bear Divide, Angeles National Forest

1:10 – Southwest view from the “summit” of Bear Divide


Rock Mountain (Fallbrook)

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View from Rock Mountain, north San Diego County

Morning sun near the top of Rock Mountain

Looking north from Rock Mountain

Looking north from Rock Mountain

Rock Mountain (Fallbrook)

    • Location: North San Diego County, between Fallbrook and Temecula. From the Inland Empire, take I-15 to Rancho California Road in Temecula. Turn right and go 2.5 miles to Avenida del Oro. Turn left and go 0.3 miles to Sandia Creek Road. Turn left and go 7.3 miles and look for a small dirt parking lot and the trail head on the right (De Luz Heights Road = too far.) From the south, take I-15 to Old Highway 395. Turn left and go 0.2 miles to East Mission Road. Go 4.9 miles and turn right on Pico, which becomes De Luz and then Sandia Creek. In 4.2 miles, just after De Luz Heights Road, look for the trail head on the right. From Highway 76, 12.6 miles east of Oceanside, head north on South Mission Road. In 6.7 miles, turn right on West Mission Road and then almost immediately turn left on Pico. Follow it 4.2 miles to the trail head as described above.
    • Agency:  Fallbrook Land Conservancy
    • Distance: 1.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 550 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: October – May
    • Recomended gear: sun hat
    • USGS topo map: Temecula
    • More information:  All Trails page here; Flickr photo gallery here
    • Rating: 5
0:00 - Rock Mountain Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Rock Mountain Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short but steep hike yields some panoramic views of north San Diego County and southern Riverside County. The hike sadly loses points due to graffiti (particularly on the summit) and trash, but the scramble up the rocks to the summit is still worth doing if you’re in the area. Expect to use your hands as much as your feet and allow extra time for the descent.

Following the trail up Rock Mountain, San Diego County

0:09 – Hard left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the signed trail up a wooden staircase. The first half of the hike is fairly easy going as the trail winds around the base of Rock Mountain. There are no shade trees but the slope faces west, so if you get off to an early start the sun will be blocked out.

At about a quarter mile, stay straight as a trail branches off to the right. Soon after, take a hairpin left turn and head west, soon arriving at a clearing (about 0.4 miles from the start) where an abandoned car sits.

Steep stretch of trail on Rock Mountain

0:12 – Steep climb after the abandoned car

From here, the hike becomes challenging. Head straight, climbing up a loose, rutted slope and continue your steep ascent for another tenth of a mile. The trail, sometimes faint but usually pretty obvious, appears to dip downhill and fade out at this point. Look for a use trail on the right, heading straight up through the sage scrub, soon arriving at a saddle where you get some striking aerial views of the landscape below. You also see the summit of Rock Mountain on your left.

Climbing through the brush on the way to Rock Mountain's summit

0:16 – Follow the “use trail” through the brush, about half a mile from the start

Head left and follow a thin ridge toward the peak and then pick your way up over the boulders to the summit. Your exact route may vary but you will generally stay on the south side of the peak, keeping it on your left.

View of Rock Mountain, San Diego County

0:20 – Rock Mountain’s summit, as seen from the saddle

On the top, you can sit on any of the jumble of boulders and enjoy an excellent view which on clear days may include the Palomar Mountains and the ocean. You also get a bird’s eye look at Sandia Creek Road, winding its way through the hills below. When you’re done enjoying the view head back down, respecting the steep and loose terrain on the descent.

View from just below the summit of Rock Mountain

0:22 – Looking south from the ridge below 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.

Aerial view of the Fallbrook, CA area from Rock Mountain

0:25 – Looking down from the summit of Rock Mountain

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

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Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail

Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail

Oak on Limestone Canyon Road

Oak on Limestone Canyon Road

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

  • Location: Silverado, in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.  From the 55 Freeway, take the Chapman Ave. exit and head east for a total of 7.7 miles (Chapman becomes Santiago Canyon Road en route).    Shortly past Irvine Lake, look for the Augustine Staging Area, turn right and park as directed in the lot.  From I-5, take El Toro Road and head northeast for a total of 14.2 miles (El Toro becomes Santiago Canyon Road).  The Augustine Staging Area is on the left, 1.8 miles past Silverado Canyon Road.
  • Agency: Irvine Ranch Company; Orange County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 10.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – June; accessible only during specific times (check Irvine Ranch Company link above for schedule)
  • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Limestone Canyon info here; Everytrail report here; description of upcoming hike on Friday, December 5th here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

This loop is a longer version of the popular Shoestring Loop in Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park.  Like the Shoestring, this hike can be done on Wilderness Access Days in Limestone Canyon or as part of one of several docent-led hikes scheduled through the year (it will be next offered on Friday, 11/14 and Friday, 12/5).  Click the Irvine Ranch Company link for available dates.  The full version described here is more than 10 miles long, but if you are hiking independently on a Wilderness Access Day, you can shorten the loop to just under 8 miles.  On the guided hikes, the volunteer docents may give the group the option of shortening the hike, but be prepared for the full route–almost all of which is exposed.

0:20 - Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy's hikes)

0:20 – Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s hikes)

Begin by heading toward the Hicks Haul Road.  Turn right and follow it for a short distance to the Shoestring Trail, a single-track.  Cross a wooden footbridge and follow the Shoestring Trail for about 0.7 miles as it parallels Santiago Canyon Road, making its way up and down a few short but steep hills.

0:41 - Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail

0:41 – Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail

At just under a mile from the start, turn left and begin an ascent on a fire road.  After about a mile of steady climbing, you reach the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail, where you get some good views to the southwest.  You follow this trail southeast for about 1.4 miles, making several more small ascents and descents, before reaching a junction with the paved Hicks Haul Road.  (This would be your return route on the 4.5 mile Shoestring Loop.)

1:12 - Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge

1:12 – Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge

To continue toward the Sandtrap Trail, bear right on the Hicks Haul Road and go a short distance to the East Loma Ridge Road.  It climbs for about a mile, taking in some excellent views in all directions, finally reaching a junction with the Sandtrap Trail.  Turn left and make a brief ascent to the highest point on the hike, just over 1,600 feet in elevation.  Enjoy some more views, which may extend to the San Gabriels if visibility is good, before beginning a steep descent.

1:33 - Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail

1:33 – Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail

The Sandtrap Trail follows a curving ridge that drops almost 700 feet in 1.4 miles.  At 6.3 miles, you reach a T-junction in oak-shaded Limestone Canyon.  If you want to end the hike here, turn left and follow Limestone Canyon Road about 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.  To extend the hike, turn right and follow the fire road up a gradual incline for a mile, enjoying a little bit of shade from sparsely spaced oaks and sycamores, to the Raptor Trail.

2:11 - Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail

2:11 – Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail

The single-track Raptor Trail crosses a footbridge and begins a rather steep climb, gaining 250 feet in half a mile.  At Limestone Ridge, turn left and follow the trail up and down some bumps, noting the characteristic sandstone geology of Black Star Canyon in the distance.  A steep descent brings you back into the canyon (9.2 miles from the start) where you bear right on Limestone Canyon Road and follow it just over a mile back to the parking lot.

2:40 - View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge

2:40 – View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge

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.

3:10 - View of Black Star Canyon's geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon

3:10 – View of Black Star Canyon’s geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon

Sonome Canyon Loop (Chino Hills State Park)

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View of the Chino Hills from the Sonome Canyon Loop

View of Gilman Peak and Carbon Canyon from Olinda Drive

Two oak trees, Chino HIlls Stat Park

Oaks on the La Vida Trail, Chino Hills State park

Sonome Canyon Loop (Chino Hills State Park)

    • Location: Olinda Village, Carbon Canyon, northeast Orange County. From the 57 Freeway, take the Lambert Rd. exit and head east for 4.4 miles (Lambert becomes Carbon Canyon Road/Highway 142 en route). Turn left on Olinda Place and almost immediately take another left onto Lilac Lane. Follow Lilac half a mile to its end. From Chino Hills Parkway, take Highway 142/Carbon Canyon Road southwest for 5.8 miles and turn right on Olinda Place, then immediately left onto Lilac.
    • Agency: Chino Hills State Park
    • Distance: 4.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 950 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season: October – May; trail is open from 8am to 5 pm
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
    • USGS topo map: Yorba Linda
    • More information: Trail map here; Chino Hills Park homepage here
    • Rating: 5
Start of the Sonome Canyon Loop, Chino Hills State Park

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Lilac Lane (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop explores the lightly visited corner of Chino Hills State Park that sits north of Carbon Canyon Road. Some hikers might be turned off by the fact that a substantial portion of the hike is on paved streets and that the trails have little shade, but the loop provides a good workout conveniently located to north Orange County and the Inland Empire, with panoramic views of the area. With the Bane Canyon entrance to the park closed until April of 2015, this hike makes a nice alternative, especially for hikers who feel as if they’ve run out of trails to explore in this area.

Steep ascent on the Sonome Canyon Loop, Chino HIlls State Park

0:09 – Steep ascent under the telephone lines (times are approximate)

The hike can be done in either direction and with over a mile of the route using residential streets, there are several possible starting points. Hiking clockwise from the end of Lilac Lane as described here is advantageous in that it breaks up the longest ascent of the hike and bypasses the thankless task of a steep, exposed climb on paved Olinda Drive. If you are hiking in the late afternoon, you can plan to time your hike so that you are off park lands by 5pm, finishing the route on the residential streets.

La Vida Trail, Chino HIlls State Park

0:21 – Bear right at the top of the ridge onto the La Vida Trail

From the end of Lilac, follow the trail into the park. The route is signed as the Lilac Trail on the park map but as the Sonome Canyon Trail at the park entrance. It ascends steadily, making a sharp right turn at about 0.3 miles and climbing a ridge beneath telephone lines. Make your way uphill, following either the winding path or the steep fire break. At about 0.7 miles from the start (450 vertical feet), the trail levels out. Look for a dirt path branching off to the right (La Vida Trail on the map) and take it.

Sonome Canyon, Chino HIlls State Park

0:49 – Entering Sonome Canyon

You now begin a mile-long descent into Sonome Canyon, a tributary of Carbon Canyon. This stretch of the trail is enjoyably quiet, you are on the north side of the ridge which blocks out much of the sounds of civilization. If visibility is good, you can see the San Gabriels poking above the opposite side of the canyon.

Oaks in Sonome Canyon, Chino Hills State Park

0:53 – Oaks in Sonome Canyon, shortly before the big ascent

At 1.7 miles, you reach the bottom of Sonome Canyon. The trail stays level until the two mile mark, when it makes a hairpin right turn and begins a steady ascent to another ridge (2.5 miles). Here, you reach a T-junction with paved Olinda Drive, where can enjoy a panoramic view to the south including the Chino Hills, Santa Ana Mountains and Orange County’s coastal plain.

View from Olinda Drive, Chino HIlls State Park

1:10 – Looking east from Olinda Drive after climbing out of the canyon

Head downhill on Olinda Drive which is open only to service vehicles, enjoying an aerial perspective on Carbon Canyon. After 0.6 miles, the road leaves the park and becomes residential. It continues its steep descent for another half mile before reaching a junction with Olinda Place, by the fire station. Turn right, go a short distance on Olinda and turn right again on Lilac. Follow it uphill, gradually gaining 100 feet of elevation on the way back to your starting point.

Brea Fire Station, Olinda

1:35 – Brea Fire Station (turn right onto Olinda Place)

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 Laguna Trail

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View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail, eastern San Diego County

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail

Panoramic view of Big Laguna Meadow, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

Big Laguna Meadow

Big Laguna Trail

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County in the Cleveland National Forest, near the town of Mt. Laguna.  From San Diego, take I-8 to exit 47 (Sunrise Highway or County Road S1).  Head north (left) for 14.6 miles and park at the Penny Pines Trailhead on the right side of the road.  From Julian and points north take highway 79 to Sunrise Highway/S1 and head southeast (left) for 9.2 miles.  The Penny Pines Trailhead will be on the left.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Descanso District
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Suggested time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo maps:  Monument Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 8
Start of the Noble Canyon Trail in the Laguna Mountains, San Diego County

0:00 – Start of the hike at the Penny Pines Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This long but moderately graded loop showcases the scenic variety of the Laguna Mountains, including meadows, pine woodlands and dramatic views of the Anza-Borrego Desert to the east. There are several possible starting points, but this post assumes you will hike from the Penny Pines trail head near mile marker 27.5 on the Sunrise Scenic Highway and go clockwise. This saves the best views for last and allows you to warm up with four virtually flat miles; advantageous for hikers sensitive to altitude (the trail head is a mile above sea level.) The Big Laguna Trail is actually a network of trails and the route described here (6 miles on the Big Laguna and 4 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail) doesn’t have to be followed exactly for an enjoyable experience; do as much or as little as your time and energy allow.

Junction on the Big Laguna Trail, San Diego County

0:24 – Junction at the top of Big Laguna Meadow (times are approximate)

From the Penny Pines trail head, pick up the Noble Canyon Trail on the west side of the highway. Go through a gate and pass by an information board and soon reach a junction where you’ll turn left on the Big Laguna Trail and follow it through a pleasant woodland of Jeffrey pines and black oaks.

Black oaks and pines on the Big Laguna Trail, Laguna Mountains, San Diego County

0:50 – Black oaks and pines, Big Laguna Trail (stay straight at the junction)

Just under a mile from the start, you enter the upper end of Big Laguna Meadow and reach a junction.  Both trails are part of the Big Laguna system but the quickest route is to stay straight, following the eastern side of the meadow (it will be on your right).

Little Laguna Meadow, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

1:03 – Bear left at the junction in Little Laguna Meadow

After entering the woods again, stay right at the next junction, a spur leading to a campground. At about 2.5 miles, you reach a T-junction where you’ll head left and walk through a smaller meadow. If there have been recent rains, Little Laguna Lake will come to life. The trail splits but both forks soon reconnect. At 2.8 miles, you reach a fence where you will turn right and cross over a boardwalk (on the opposite side of the fence, the trail continues toward the Laguna Campground.)

Boardwalk on the Big Laguna Trail leading through a meadow, Cleveland Natinonal Forest

1:10 – Take a walk on the boardwalk

Follow the trail with the fence on the left to a service road under a telephone line. Bear left, go a short distance and make a hard left on the Big Laguna Trail which now travels through an attractive grove of tall pines. At about 4 miles from the start, you make another hard left and begin the first significant climbing of the entire route, crossing dirt Los Huecos Road in half a mile. Beyond, the trail passes a primitive campsite and follows a road bed through pines and oaks; when the trail bends north you may get a glimpse of the Cuyamaca Mountains to the west. After a little while the trail splits off to the left and descends toward the Sunrise Scenic Highway.

Service road, Cleveland National Forest, eastern San Diego County

1:27 – Bear left at the junction with the service road

At 5.5 miles you cross the road and ascend for another half mile to meet the Pacific Crest Trail. This is an alternative starting point. Turn left and follow the P.C.T. out of the woods and up to a ridge, where you will get good views of the Cuyamaca Mountains. If visibility is good you may even get a glimpse of the ocean. The rocky outline of Garnet Peak dominates to the north.

Big Laguna Trail heads through pines, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

1:41 – Up hill through the pines

Soon you reach a saddle where you get some excellent views of Storm Canyon and the desert below. The P.C.T. meanders through the meadow, dropping into a ravine and climbing to a spot where you can observe the view either from a bench or a wooden deck (8.8 miles from the start). This is also an optional trail head.

Pines on the Big Laguna Trail, Cleveland National Forest

2:02 – Leave Los Huercos Road and follow the Big Laguna Trail to the highway

Past the bench, the P.C.T. continues, switch backing once again down into a canyon and continuing north before finally reaching a spur that leads back to the Penny Pines trail head.

View of the Cuyamaca Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail

2:45 – View of the Cuyamaca Mountains from the Pacific Crest 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.

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pacific Crest Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County

3:50 – View from the bench, just over a mile from the end

 

Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir

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View of Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir, Hollywood Hills

Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir

Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir

  • Location: Hollywood Hills.  From the San Fernando Valley, take the 101 freeway to Coldwater Canyon.  Head south on Coldwater for 2.5 miles and take a hard right on Franklin Canyon Drive.  Drive 0.7 miles into the park and take a left into the parking lot for the William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom. Note that there is a camera-enforced stop sign at the intersection.  From Sunset Blvd., head north on Beverly Drive for 0.4 miles.  Take a left to stay on Beverly, and then another left 0.2 miles later.  In 0.9 miles, take a right on Franklin Canyon Drive.  Follow Franklin Canyon Drive for 1.8 miles, around the reservoir, to a T-junction. Turn right and pull into the parking lot.
  • Agency: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: Beverly Hills
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • More information: here; trip descriptions (slightly different route) here and here; Franklin Canyon Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 4
Start of the Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir hike

0:00 – Start of the hike at the Douglas Outdoor Classroom (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Franklin Canyon Park feels a little more like wilderness than most of the other parks in the Hollywood Hills. You’ll still see power lines overhead and hear traffic nearby but if you don’t have time to make it to Malibu Creek or the Angeles National Forest, the park is a nice little spot for an escape into nature. The short but enjoyable walk around the upper reservoir, the smaller of the two in the park, is well worth a visit if you live or work in the area, or perhaps have friends visiting from out of town who want more out of the Hollywood experience than spotting celebrities.

Trail leading toward Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir

0:06 – Leaving the main road toward the lake (times are approximate)

Several trails branch away from the lake, making it easy to extend your hike should you want to; you can also visit the Hastain Trail at the southern end of the park. This post, however, will focus on the short loop around the lake, which can be done with a combination of single-track trails and paved roads. It can be done in either direction, but since the paved road is one-way counter clockwise to traffic, try hiking clockwise so you can always see oncoming cars.

Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir as seen from the picnic area

0:10 – View of the lake from the picnic area

Leave the parking lot and turn left, immediately arriving at a junction. Turn left again and follow the paved road through a pleasant woodland of pines, sycamores and oaks. At 0.2 miles, cross over the concrete barrier on a wooden staircase and descend toward the lake. Make a hard left and follow the trail (listed as the Chernoff Trail on some maps) to a picnic area where you get a nice view of the reservoir from a bench.

Oak tree on the Wodoc Nature Trail, Franklin Canyon Park

0:20 – Oak on the Wodoc Nature Trail

Continuing through the woods, you reach a staircase leading to a dam at the reservoir’s southern end. Cross it, passing by a private residence and arriving at the Wodoc Nature Trail. This short paved path circles a small pool known as Heavenly Pond, popular with ducks (although feeding is not allowed).

When the nature trail rejoins the road, continue north toward the start of the hike and into a dirt parking lot. You can close the loop out on the paved road but to make it more interesting, take either of the two dirt paths leading out of the lot, both of which rejoin at another picnic area. Follow the trail past the picnic tables, under a large oak and back up to the road where you retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Picnic table, Franklin Canyon Park

0:24 – Picnic 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.