Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

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Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Cedar Creek Falls

Eagle Peak seen from the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

Eagle Peak from the San Diego River Gorge Trail

Cedar Creek Falls (West Approach)

  • Location: 15519 Thornbush Road, Ramona. From Escondido, follow Highway 78 east for about 18 miles. In downtown Ramona when Highway 78 turns left, stay straight and follow 10th St., which soon becomes San Vicente Road, for a total of 6.8 miles. Turn left on Ramona Oaks and follow it 2.9 miles to Thornbush Road. Turn right on Thornbush and follow it 0.2 miles to the parking area. From Poway, take Highway 67 to Dye Road (6.1 miles northeast of the junction with Poway Road). Turn right and follow Dye 1.8 miles where it turns left and becomes Ramona St. Follow Ramona 0.4 miles and turn right on Warnock. Go 0.8 miles and turn right on San Vicente. Follow San Vicente Road 4.8 miles to Ramona Oaks. Turn left and follow Ramona Oaks 2.9 miles to Thornbush. Turn right and drive to the parking area. Restrooms and water are available at the trail head. Dogs are allowed but not recommended. To purchase the required permit ($6 for a group of up to five) click here. If you have a Smartphone, you can buy the permit at the trail head but plan on 10-15 minutes’ processing time. Note that the permit is only required for visiting the area around the falls; the first two miles of the hike don’t require it.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: November – June; sunrise to sunset
  • USGS topo map: “Santa Ysabel”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • More information: Yelp page here; trip descriptions here and here; articles about the history of the trail and its current regulations here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

The good news is that the San Diego River Gorge Trail provides a route to Cedar Creek Falls that is more convenient and accessible than the trail from south of Julian. The bad news is that over use and reckless behavior from some visitors has caused the implementation of a permit system. In addition to seeing its share of cliff-jumping type accidents, Cedar Creek Falls is a reverse hike through almost entirely exposed terrain in an area that gets very hot during the summer. Hikers who aren’t prepared for a long ascent can find themselves hating life on the return from Cedar Creek (the approaches from both directions are reverse hikes.)

Information board at the Cedar Creek Falls Trail Head, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

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

Despite the caveats, the scenic rewards of this hike are considerable. Even if the waterfall is barely a trickle, which is the case as of this writing, this is still one of the better hikes in San Diego County. The trail from Ramona is moderately graded and easy to follow.

Descending switchbacks on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:18 – Descending the switchbacks (times are approximate)

From the trail head, pass by an information board with dire warnings about heat stroke and and other potential hazards and begin the descent. As you make your way down the wide switchbacks, you get a panoramic view of the San Diego River Gorge below, with Eagle Peak towering above on the opposite side. Beyond are the higher summits of the Cuyamacas. You may also notice the trail from the east cutting its way down the hill side. Distance markers at quarter-mile intervals mark your progress.

At just over two miles, you reach the attractive floodplain of the San Diego River, dotted with oaks and sycamores. Almost immediately after you come to a junction with the trail from Julian. It is only beyond this point that the permit is required. Stay straight and follow the canyon of Cedar Creek, crossing the stream bed a few times. The trail becomes somewhat rocky but never too difficult.

Trees and mountains on the San Diego River Gorge Trail, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

0:25 – Change in the foliage as the trail descends

At about 2.7 miles from the start, the top of the 80-foot waterfall comes into view. You find yourself at a large pool nicknamed the Punchbowl, lined with rocks and a few shallow inlets. Here you can sit and enjoy the scene; though it’s only a few air miles from civilization it feels far more isolated. Make sure you rest up for the ascent back.

San Diego River Flood Plain, Cleveland National Forest, CA

0:50 – Greenery on the San Diego River flood plain, shortly before the junction

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

Punchbowl, Cedar Creek Falls, Cleveland National Forest, San Diego County, CA

1:05 – Punchbowl at Cedar Creek Falls

Top 14 hikes of ’14!

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View of San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak from Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Ryan Mountain

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

View of the coastline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Looking east from mid Santa Cruz Island en route to Del Norte Trail Camp

Greetings readers and hikers, I hope this has been a happy, fun and successful year for you all! As is tradition on this site, for the last post of the year we present a list of the highlights from the last 365 days. It was a banner year for NHLA – we passed one million total page views, set a single-day record for traffic, started a relationship with Sports Chalet, continued to network with other sites and publishers promoting hiking, such as the “Longest Straw” crew. More than one hundred hikes – from Santa Barbara to the high desert to Joshua Tree to the Anza-Borrego Desert – were written up and here are the best of them. Enjoy!

#14) Devil’s Punchbowl

Definitely one of the best short hikes in all of Southern California, the Devil’s Punchbowl showcases unusual geology, panoramic views of the high desert and the towering north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains.

#13) Rattlesnake Canyon

Steep but scenic, this is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular hiking trails. Your efforts for 1,700 feet of climbing are rewarded with outstanding ocean and mountain views.

#12) Butler Peak

Home to the highest lookout tower in the San Bernardino National Forest, the hike to Butler Peak leads through lofty pine forests with views all around.

#11) Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve

It’s hard not to like the little mountain town of Julian. Case in point: this large pocket of open space, where you can lose yourself in the wide open fields and rolling hills.

#10) Romero Canyon

Excellent ocean vistas, mountain views and shaded oak woodlands are among the highlights of this popular Santa Barbara hike.

#9) West Mesa Loop

Alpine meadows, oak and pine forests, excellent mountain views and the historic Airplane Monument make this hike one of the best in all of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

#8) Horsethief Creek

In the dry transition zone between the Coachella Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountains, Horsethief Creek is a pleasant surprise, offering a truly remote hiking experience and a variety of geological and botanical scenery.

#7) Del Norte Trail Camp

Want to escape the crowds on Santa Cruz Island? The middle portion of this largest of the Channel Islands is lightly traveled and Del Norte Trail Camp is a perfect day hike destination (or, as its name suggests, a camping destination).

#6) Agua Tibia Wilderness

This remote and rugged area of north San Diego County challenges hikers but also rewards them with excellent views of the Palomar Mountains, the Santa Rosas, Garner Valley and more.

#5) Mt. Wilson/Devore Camp Loop

Mt. Wilson as a reverse hike? Why not? This 11-mile loop descends via the Kenyon Devore Trail and returns via the Gabrielino and Rim Trails, providing passage through Mt. Wilson’s remote north slope.

#4) Ryan Mountain

With 360-degree summit views including San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountain, there’s a reason why Ryan Mountain is Joshua Tree’s most popular summit

#3) Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

History and phenomenal views come together in this hike, which explores the route of the Mt. Lowe Railroad. The Sam Merrill and Echo Mountain Trails provide vistas of the L.A. Basin while the Castle Canyon Trail explores some of the area’s geological features. In between is Inspiration Point, where almost all of So Cal is visible.

#2) High Point

The highest point in the Palomar Mountains offers predictably exciting scenery. Supposedly a fire 200 miles away in Santa Barbara was once spotted from this lookout and when you experience the views from the summit, it’s not hard to believe.

#1) Mt. Hawkins Loop

The best NHLA hike of 2014 is this outstanding 13-mile loop in the Angeles National Forest. Visiting both South Hawkins and Mt. Hawkins, this epic route provides amazing views of the L.A. Basin, the high desert, San Gabriel Canyon and more.

Well, it’s been a great year and thank all of you readers for making this site your go-to resource for information about hikes. Let’s all get out there and have a great 2015!

Elsmere Canyon

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Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon

Geology in Elsmere Canyon, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

The Towsley geological formation, Elsmere Canyon

Elsmere Canyon

  • Location: Santa Clarita.  From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit.  If you’re coming from the south, turn right; the north, left, and drive to the end of the street and park in the dirt lot.  (If the lot is full, you may need to use the lower lot, where there is a $5 fee.)
  • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round (best after recent rains)
  • USGS topo maps: Oat Mountain, San Fernando
  • More information: here; trip description here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report (loop route) here
  • Rating: 7
Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:00 – Elsmere Canyon Open Space trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The small seasonal waterfall in Elsmere Canyon is a pleasant surprise for hikers who may feel as if they know all of the trails in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Even during the summer months when the waterfall is likely to be dry the enjoyable stroll along the Creek Trail is a good way to beat the heat. Elsmere Canyon is large (over 1,200 acres) and the 6-mile loop around the perimeter of the park is a challenging workout, but power lines and exposure to freeway noise detract from the experience. The short hike to and from the waterfall is the most enjoyable one in the park and one of the best easy hikes in the area.

Creek Trail, Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:06 – Bear left on the Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the Whitney Canyon Trail Head, which also serves as an entry point to Elsmere Canyon, follow the trail signed for Elsmere Canyon as it heads south along the border of the parking lot, up a ridge and downhill to a junction (0.2 miles.) Bear left on the signed Creek Trail which follows a pleasant course along a seasonal stream, crossing it several times. Soon you’re under the shade of oaks and you’ll also notice the tall rock walls, part of the Towsley Formation, rising high on the west side of the canyon.

Single track trail in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:27 – Turnoff for the waterfall

At 0.9 miles, you reach a junction with a wide fire road. Bear right, go a short distance and then head left on a single-track trail leading deeper into the woods. You will have to negotiate a few  creek crossings, some of which may be tricky if water levels are high. Adding to the challenge are several fallen trees, the result of the Foothill Fire of 2004 and other blazes. Overall though the navigation and terrain aren’t too difficult and after 0.4 miles, you find yourself at the base of the waterfall.

The lower tier which is about 10 feet can be climbed fairly easily for those with experience, assuming that the water level isn’t high enough to present a hazard. The upper tier is about 20 feet tall and pours down into a shallow pool. Whether you observe the waterfall from the bottom or the middle, it’s an attractive, peaceful spot, only a few miles from civilization but virtually isolated.

Waterfall in Elsmere Canyon Open Space, Santa Clarita, CA

0:45 – Elsmere Canyon waterfall

There are more waterfalls beyond this one that can be reached by climbers who possess the necessary equipment and knowledge, but for hikers who don’t want to risk becoming part of the conversation about what steps managing agencies should take to regulate open spaces, this is the turnaround point. On the way back, if it’s a cool day and you’re looking for a little more of a workout, consider taking the Elsmere Canyon Loop instead of the Creek Trail, adding 0.2 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain. It lacks the serenity of the Creek Trail but does provide some nice views of the Santa Clarita Valley, including the distant Sierra Pelona range.

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.

Dawn Mine

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Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

Rocks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Oaks in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest, CA

Oaks in Millard Canyon on the way to Dawn Mine

Dawn Mine

  • Location: Angeles National Forest above Pasadena. From the 210 Freeway, take the Lincoln Ave. exit and head north for 1.9 miles. Turn right on W. Loma Alta Drive, go 0.6 miles and turn left on to Cheney Trail. Follow it 1.2 miles to a junction with Mt. Lowe Road (also known as the Sunset Ridge Fire Road). A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles River Ranger District
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (trail condition, navigation, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Pasadena
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Trails of the Angeles
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
Sunset Ridge Fire Road, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Sunset Ridge Fire Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This perennial favorite of L.A. hikers has recently re-opened following the Station Fire. Unfortunately, the devastation that the fire wrought on the canyon has made the hike to Dawn Mine more challenging than it was before. Expect to have to negotiate fallen trees, jumbled boulders and washed out sections of the trail and unless you’re experienced at navigating rough canyons, consider going with someone who’s already done the hike. The good news is that the rugged conditions make the hike feel particularly wild and isolated considering its proximity to civilization. In addition to the historic mine, the hike provides an aerial view of Millard Canyon Falls (still closed from below as of this writing) and an opportunity for a side-trip to Saucer Branch Falls.

Sunset Ridge Trail, Angeles National Forest, CA

0:08 – Turnoff for the Sunset Ridge Trail (times are approximate)

It used to be possible to make the hike into a loop and perhaps it still is, but due to poor trail conditions, the best and “easiest” way to see the mine is heading straight up through the canyon. From the parking area, follow the Sunset Ridge Fire Road for about 0.3 miles to a junction with the Sunset Ridge Trail, a single-track. Follow it around the south rim of Millard Canyon, getting some dramatic views, including the waterfall.

Trail descending to Millard Canyon in the Angeles National Forest, CA

0:20 – The left fork descends to Millard Canyon

At about a mile from the start, you reach a Y-fork. The Sunset Ridge Trail continues upward to the right, eventually rejoining the fire road. To get to Dawn Mine, bear left and follow the trail as it descends past a cabin, soon reaching the bottom of the canyon.

Now the challenge begins. You make your way slowly up the canyon, crossing the stream bed several times. Navigation can be tricky, but there are many trail ducks that help point the way. In some places a semblance of the trail or evidence of hikers before you can help; the route usually sticks pretty close to the banks of the canyon.

Heavy growth in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest

0:35 – Through the bushes at the junction with the Saucer Branch

At about 1.4 miles from the start, a tributary, Saucer Branch, joins Millard Canyon from the left. If you’re up for a side trip, a short but difficult scramble up this fork (keep an eye out for poison oak) brings you to a modest-sized two tier waterfall. The route to Dawn Mine branches off to the right, ducking through some bushes and crossing the two forks of the stream before emerging on the other side.

Jumbled boulders in Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest, CA

1:00 – Climbing through the rocks

More wading in and out of the creek and negotiating fallen trees brings you to the most strenuous part of the hike: climbing a wash of boulders. The exact route may vary, but the easiest way up is to stick to the left side of the canyon and to hoist yourself between the rocks. A large root of a fallen tree makes an obstacle but it can be ducked under or climbed carefully over. From here, make your way up a steep and loose slope between more rocks before following a trail that clings to the rocks on the left side of the canyon–and negotiating more fallen trees.

After this, the going gets somewhat easier. At about 2 miles from the start, you’re rewarded for your efforts as the canyon enters an attractive oak woodland. The trail can still be a little tough to follow and there are still boulders to climb, but by now the toughest of the climbing is behind you.

Oak woodlands in Millard Canyon near Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:17 – Oak woodlands after the rock scramble

Shortly after crossing under a rusted metal pipe, look for a path branching off to the left and heading down into the canyon. Some fairly easy rock scrambling brings you to a short spur trail leading uphill to the mine. Look for some metal equipment lodged in the left side of the canyon and soon after that is the entrance.

Path through the woods to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:27 – Path leading toward the mine

Though many people have done it, entering the mine is not advisable; think of it as the Angeles National Forest’s version of Russian Roulette. Instead, consider taking a glimpse inside and then enjoying the pleasant quiet of the canyon before retracing your steps.

In case you were wondering, Dawn Mine was named after Dawn Ehrenfeld, the daughter of a friend of one of the first miners who prospected the area. Although gold was first discovered here in 1895 and would continue to be found in bits and pieces, the results were disappointing and the mine was shut down in the 1950s.

Entrance to Dawn Mine, Angeles National Forest

1:30 – Dawn Mine entrance

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 (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