Tag Archives: outdoors

Tahquitz Canyon


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Tahquitz Falls

Tahquitz Falls

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:12 - "Sacred Rock"

0:12 – “Sacred Rock”

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

0:17 - Beginning of the second loop

0:17 – Beginning of the second loop

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

0:35 - Pool below Tahquitz Falls

0:35 – Pool below Tahquitz Falls

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

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Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)


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Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Geology on the Long Canyon Trail

Oaks in Long Canyon

Oaks in Long Canyon

Long Canyon Loop (Simi Valley)

  • Location: Simi Valley, at the corner of Long Canyon Road and S. Wood Ranch Parkway.  From Highway 118, take the First St. exit and go south (turn right if you’re coming from the west, left if from the east) for 4.5 miles.  En route First St. becomes Long Canyon Road.  Follow it to the junction with S. Wood Ranch and continue onto Bannister Way.  Turn left into the parking lot.  From Highway 23, take the Olsen Road exit and go northeast for 1.9 miles to Wood Ranch Parkway. (Olsen becomes Madera Road en route).  Turn right on Wood Ranch and go 1.9 miles to the junction with Long Canyon Road.  Turn right onto Bannister and left into the parking lot.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Moorpark; Thousand Oaks
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: here; trip description (first part of the hike) here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – View of geological outcrops from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike, conveniently located to Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, has a little bit of everything: wide-ranging mountain and suburban views, interesting geology and secluded oak-shaded canyons.  With three main ascents totaling about 1,400 feet, it’s a pretty fair workout too.

0:18 - View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

0:18 – View from the top of the ridge; turn left at the T-junction (times are approximate)

The Long Canyon Trail is one of several in the network overseen by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. With the Lang Ranch/Woodbridge trail system near by, many different routes are possible when starting from the Long Canyon Trailhead. The route described here is a good, challenging half-day hike, an out-and-back with a long loop.

From the trailhead, you make a steady ascent. As you climb, the views of Simi Valley open up and you pass some small sandstone caves. Ignore a few false trails branching off; the main route is pretty obvious. It soon levels out, skirting the upper edge of a canyon, and reaches a T-junction 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead.

0:24 - Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

0:24 – Left turn at the junction with the Lang Ranch Trails

Turn left and begin a descent to a multi-trail junction (a point also visited on the Lang Ranch Loop.) Take the immediate left and continue your descent. At 1.1 miles, make a hard right, climb briefly and then begin another long descent into a secluded canyon.  At 1.7 miles, after passing some abandoned farm equipment, you reach the beginning of the loop. You can hike it in either direction, but clockwise has a more gradual ascent. Follow the trail through the pleasant, oak-lined canyon, emerging at a point just below Long Canyon Road. You can shorten your hike by following Long Canyon Road about a mile west, back to the trailhead.

0:43 - Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

0:43 – Abandoned farm equipment in Long Canyon

To continue on this route, however, turn right and follow the trail southeast, staying left at a junction and right at a second one before entering another oak canyon. Emerging from the woodland, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the right and makes a considerably steeper ascent, following the top of a ridge with good views on both sides. At 4 miles, you begin your descent back into the canyon, enjoying more panoramic vistas along the way. You reach the bottom at 4.7 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps up out of the canyon and back down to the trailhead.

1:40 - Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

1:40 – Following the knife ridge at the top of the second ascent

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

1:50 - Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

1:50 – Descending back into the canyon toward the end of the loop

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch


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Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Geology and sky on the East Topanga Fire Road

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Santa Monica Bay from the overlook

Topanga Overlook from Trippet Ranch

  • Location:  Santa Monica Mountains, north of Malibu.  From Santa Monica, take Pacific Coast Highway north for 6.1 miles and then take Topanga Canyon Boulevard north 4.7 miles to Entrada (just past the center of town), take a right and drive a mile.  The park entrance is on the left.  From the Valley, take the 101 freeway to Topanga Blvd. and go south for 7.8 miles, and take a hard left on Entrada.  There is a $10 per day parking fee.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: “Topanga”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and and here; area trail map here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trailhead at Trippet Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

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

The scenic Topanga Overlook (also known as the Parker Mesa Overlook) can be reached from Pacific Palisades in the east or, as described here, from the west, starting at the Trippet Ranch area of Topanga State Park.  While this trailhead has a $10 per vehicle price tag (compared with free parking for the east approach) the payoff includes panoramic views of Topanga Canyon and the ocean, up-close looks at sandstone geology and an attractive grove of oaks.  Overall it feels more secluded than the eastern approach, save for the noise from cars on Topanga Canyon Blvd.

0:08 - Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

0:08 – Turn right on the East Topanga Fire Road

From Trippet Ranch, take the East Topanga Fire Road past a picnic area and head uphill, bearing right at the first intersection and left at the second. At 0.3 miles, you reach a signed junction where your route, the East Topanga Fire Road, branches off to the right. (The left fork heads uphill to Eagle Rock.)

0:16 - Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

0:16 – Bench overlooking Topanga Canyon

The fire road continues its climb through an oak woodland. At 0.6 miles, the ascent levels out and a solitary bench provides a resting spot with a nice view of Topanga Canyon. Continuing south, you descend to a ridge and follow it, making another moderate climb of about 200 feet followed by another descent.

0:56 - Geology

0:56 – Geology

At about 2.3 miles, you pass some pink sandstone geology on the left. You then begin the last major ascent of the outbound half of the hike, climbing about 250 feet over the next half mile to reach the spur to the overlook. The East Topanga Fire Road continues to Pacific Palisades.

1:10 - Spur to the Topanga Overlook

1:10 – Spur to the Topanga Overlook

Turn right on the spur to the overlook and head south for half a mile, negotiating a few moderate ups and downs before reaching the end. Here, you can enjoy a great view of Santa Monica Bay from two benches. On clear days you can see east to Mt. Baldy and southeast to Old Saddleback. Return via the same route or, if you’ve left a car shuttle, you can continue east to the Pacific Palisades trailhead.

1:25 - Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

1:25 – Topanga Overlook/Parker Mesa Overlook

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.

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)


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Looking southeast from High Point

Looking southeast from High Point

Oak woodlands near the summit

Oak woodlands near the summit

High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)

  • Location:  Oak Grove Fire Station, northeast San Diego County.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 24 miles to the Oak Grove Fire Station on the right side of the road.  Turn into the lot and park in between the two buildings.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
  • Distance: 13.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 7 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps: Aguanga, Palomar Mountain Observatory
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information:  Trip descriptions here, here, here (slightly different route) and here;  Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike in the parking lot behind the fire station (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

High Point (elevation 6,140) is the highest point in the Palomar Mountains.  The hike to reach High Point from Highway 79 is one of the most scenic and challenging in San Diego County.

0:08 - Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

0:08 – Crossing the service road (times are approximate)

From the parking lot behind the fire station, follow the paved road to the campground where signs will direct you to the trail.  At 0.3 miles, bear left on a single-track (as of this writing, fallen tree branches block the way but they’re easy to circumvent.)  The single-track joins a service road (0.5 miles) and then splits off again (0.7 miles.)

The trail soon begins an intense climb, ascending about 1,200 feet over the next 1.2 miles. To be sure, it’s a difficult stretch, but as you slug it out, you’re rewarded with great views including San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Toro Peak and possibly Mt. Baldy if the air is clear. The lower part of the trail is exposed but as you get higher scrub oak provides a little shade.

0:10 - Start of the Oak Grove Trail

0:10 – Start of the Oak Grove Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, the Oak Grove Trail ends at Oak Grove Road. Turn right (west) and continue your ascent. The grade is more moderate, although your legs will likely feel tired from the steep ascent before. The road follows the ridge, providing more panoramic views; you may be able to pick out Old Saddleback in the distance.

1:10 - View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

1:10 – View from the top of the Oak Grove Trail

At 3.6 miles, just after you pass a gate, turn left at a fork and begin ascending High Point Road. You climb steadily for another 1.4 miles until the grade finally flattens and you can enjoy some great views to the east. You also might get a glimpse of the lookout tower on the summit, providing some motivation for the home stretch.

1:50 - View from the junction with High Point Road

1:55 – View from the junction with High Point Road

At 5.4 miles, you enter a pleasant oak woodland and come to another junction. This is a nice place to rest before making the final push to the top. Turn right and ascend on Palomar Divide Road, ignoring a side road coming in from the left. This is one of the more enjoyable parts of the hike, as oaks provide some shade and you can still get some good views on your right.

After making a hairpin turn the cover of oaks becomes even thicker, resembling parts of the Angeles National Forest. Take a left on a spur (6.4 miles) leading up to the summit.

2:50 - Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

2:50 – Oaks on Palomar Divide Road after the junction with High Point Road

The watchtower and some equipment sheds cut down on the view a little bit but it’s still a very impressive tableau: the mountains of Anza-Borrego; the Santa Rosas; the San Jacintos; the San Gabriels; the Santa Anas and the ocean.  According to “Afoot and Afield”, if visibility is excellent, the Channel Islands can be seen.  You also have an unusual view of the Palomar Mountain Observatory from above.  Picnic tables allow you to sit and enjoy a snack before beginning the long trip back.   Make sure you rest your legs before descending the steep Oak Grove Trail back to the campground.

3:25 - Aerial view of the observatory just below the summit

3:25 – Aerial view of the observatory just 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.

3:30 - San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

3:30 – San Jacinto from the summit of High Point

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop


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Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Looking west from near the top of the Lynnmere Loop

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Red tailed hawk, Arroyo Conejo Trail

Arroyo Conejo/Lynnmere Loop

  • Location: Thousand Oaks.  Parking access is at Rancho Conejo Playfields, 950 Ventua Park Road.  From Highway 101, take the Ventu Park exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and drive 0.3 miles.  The parking lot will be on the right.
  • Agency: Conejo Recreation and Parks District (Phone: 805-495-6471)
  • Distance: 7.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1.300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map:  Newbury Park
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles; insect repellent
  • More information: Area trail maps here and here; Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfield (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

For a suburban hike, this trip is pleasantly varied and secluded, featuring mountain and canyon views, geology, a stream, woodlands and even a small seasonal waterfall.  Though the trail never reaches 1,000 feet above sea level, the significant number of ups and downs along the way add up to a substantial 1,300 feet of elevation gain-and there are some surprisingly wide vistas to be enjoyed from the ridges that the hike climbs. One caveat: following rains, the trail can be muddy in places and the stream crossing is a little tricky if the water is flowing heavily so be careful, especially if you’re hiking with kids.

0:18 - Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

0:18 – Stay straight at the four-way junction and begin the descent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, pass by the information board and follow the single-track on the left (not the road to the right, which descends to a dead-end at the creek.) For about 3/4 of a mile, the trail skirts the edge of a neighborhood, providing a good aerial view of Arroyo Conejo and its steep-walled canyon.

0:25 - Small seasonal waterfall

0:25 – Small seasonal waterfall

At a four-way junction, head straight and begin a descent to the creek. Along the way you’ll pass by a small seasonal waterfall which may be trickling following substantial rain. You reach the bottom of the creek at about 1.3 miles, where you make your way across on strategically placed rocks. (If the water level is low, it’s easy to ford, especially if you don’t mind getting wet.)

On the opposite side of the creek, turn right at a T-junction and follow a dirt road through an attractive oak woodland. Soon after you’ll turn left at another fork and begin a steady climb (300 feet in 0.4 miles) out of the canyon, with some good views of Mt. Clef to reward your efforts.

0:30 - Crossing the creek

0:30 – Crossing the creek

At 1.8 miles, you reach the start of the Lynnmere Loop. It can be hiked in either direction, but by turning left and heading counter-clockwise, you can break up the climbing. The trail passes the backs of some houses, dips into a woodland and emerges into a meadow. At 2.3 miles, you reach a junction where you get a panoramic view to the west. Here, you’ll turn right and begin another climb.

0:41 - Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

0:41 – Beginning of the Lynnmere Loop

At the top of the ridge, you get a good view to the east and an aerial view of Wildwood Park (sharp-eyed hikers may be able to pick out the park’s landmark teepee.) The trail descends to a junction (3.3 miles) where you’ll turn left and make an immediate right (the other trail continues downhill toward Wildwood Park.)

The next 3/4 of a mile isn’t particularly interesting but it’s easy enough with no major elevation gain or loss. At 4 miles, you turn right at another junction and begin a climb, crossing private residential Lynnmere Road.

0:52 - View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

0:52 – View of Mt. Clef Ridge from the Lynnmere Trail

You reach a T-junction at 4.4 miles where you’ll turn right and make another ascent to the highest point on the hike, where you get a great view of the western Santa Monicas on the left (south) and Mt. Clef on the right. If visibility is good you may see the Topa Topa Mountains north of Ojai. A vista spot at about 4.8 miles, marked by a spiral of stones and a makeshift bench, is a nice place to sit and enjoy the payoff of your efforts.

1:23 - Turn left then right

1:23 – Turn left then right

The trail then descends steeply, dropping about 400 feet in half a mile. You pass the end of Calla Yucca and soon after return to the start of the loop (5.3 miles.) Retrace your steps on the Arroyo Conejo Trail back to the parking lot.

2:00 - Spiral of rocks just before the vista point

2:00 – Spiral of rocks just before the vista point

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

2:10 - Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

2:10 – Descending through the trees on the Lynnmere Trail toward the end of the loop

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)


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Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Lake Perris from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Baldy and the San Gabriels from Terri Peak

Terri Peak (Lake Perris State Recreation Area)

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:19 - Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

0:19 – Looking north to the San Bernardino Mountains

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

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

0:28 - Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

0:28 – Steep climb after meeting the alternate trail

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

0:50 - Spur to the summit

0:50 – Spur to the summit

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

0:53 - Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

0:53 – Old Saddleback as seen from Terri Peak

Zanja Peak (West Approach)


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Looking west from Zanja Peak

Looking west from Zanja Peak

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Zanja Peak (West Approach)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Clemente Loop


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Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Looking east from the Cristianitos Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

Sycamores on the Talega Trail

San Clemente Loop

      • Location: San Clemente.  As described here, the hike starts from one of several possible points, the end of Cristianitos Road.  From I-5 in San Clemente, take the Avenida Pico exit and go northeast for 3.2 miles (turn right if you’re coming from the south or left if from the north.)  Turn left on Camino La Pedriza and take a quick right on Cristianitos Road.  Park where available on the street.
      • Agency: City of San Clemente
      • Distance: 10.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
      • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
      • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
      • Best season: October – April
      • USGS topo map: San Clemente
      • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat
      • More information: Trail map here; San Clemente trail descriptions including ones in this loop here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike, end of Cristianitos Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, end of Cristianitos Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This long loop features several of San Clemente’s city trails. While its highest elevation is 1,000 feet, the many ups and downs add up to about 1,700 feet of climbing, making it a great training hike. Don’t expect much in the way of solitude, but on clear days the mountain and ocean views are impressive. The trail’s convenience to south O.C., as well as north San Diego County, makes it a worthwhile recreational resource.  The entire route is exposed, so plan accordingly.

0:50 - Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

0:50 – Bridle path on the north side of Avenida Pico (times are approximate)

There are numerous access points. By hiking clockwise from the end of Cristianitos Road, you save the best scenery for last and don’t have to tackle the major ascents until several miles in.

1:40 - Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

1:40 – Talega Sign at the corner of Calle Saluda and Avenida La Pata

From the end of the road, head right on the Cristianitos Trail, which soon brings you to Avenida Pico. Cross the street and pick up the Prima Deshecha Trail, which heads uphill, passing several side trails. In general the rule of thumb is that the side-trails often quickly lead to utility poles, making the main route pretty clear. In addition, fences usually border the main trails, at least on one side.

2:05 - Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

2:05 – Beginning of the steep descent on the Talega Trail

The Prima Desecha Trail drops into a valley with an office park on one side, Bella Colina Golf Club on the other and power lines overhead. At 1.8 miles it bends sharply to the right, soon reaching Avenida Pico again. You cross it and continue on the north side of the street, heading west past the Talega Golf Club. You head north, roughly following Avenida La Plata, crossing under a bridge at Avenida Vista Hermosa (3.2 miles.)

2:45 - Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

2:45 – Footbridge above the end of Via Alcamo

The trail takes on a more secluded feel at this point, although the sights and sounds of civilization are still near. You climb to an intersection at Calle Saluda (3.8 miles) where you’ll cut around the side of a stone sign reading “TALEGA” and make a descent, paralleling the street. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and begin the first major ascent of the loop, climbing about 400 feet over the next mile. As you ascend, keep an eye out for ocean views to the left.

3:00 - Live oaks below the vista point

3:00 – Live oaks below the vista point

You brush up against the Forster Ridgeline Trail (about 5 miles from the start) and then reach a junction where you’ll stay right and begin a sharp descent. Keep an eye out for some sycamore trees growing in the canyon. You make your way to the bottom of the hill, staying left at a junction. The longest ascent of the hike begins here (5.8 miles), climbing in back of some houses and ascending about 600 feet over 1.3 miles. reaching a high point at about 7.1 miles where you can sit on a small bench and enjoy the view, including the Santa Ana Mountains, the ocean and the neighborhoods of San Clemente.

3:05 - View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

3:05 – View of houses near the water tanks at the north end of the Cristianitos Trail

Past the vista point, the trail continues northeast. On the left, behind a wire fence, some stately live oaks add a nice touch. At a large water tank, the trail takes a hard right and begins a descent along the edge of the Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve. This section of the trail, which parallels a service road, is one of the more quiet and secluded portions of the loop.

3:45 - Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

3:45 – Stay left and begin the descent on the Cristianitos Trail

At just over 8 miles, you reach the end of Avenida Talega. Pick up the Cristianitos North Trail on the opposite side, making your final major ascent of the loop. The trail climbs steeply, gaining about 250 feet over half a mile. At the top, stay left and begin a descent. A spur leads to a vista point, an optional side trip if you want to extend the hike. To continue the loop, however, head right on an obscure trail leading through some bushes. As you descend toward the water tanks, take note of the sandstone cliffs on the right, featuring shallow caves.

3:50 - Turn right and head through the bushes

3:50 – Turn right and head through the bushes

The remainder of the loop is an easy, moderate descent. You follow the trail around the back of some residential streets, live oaks on the left side making the journey more appealing. Finally you complete the loop, returning to the end of Cristianitos Road.

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

3:52 - Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

3:52 – Sandstone on the Cristianitos Trail

Tin Mine Canyon


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Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Stream in Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Hills above Tin Mine Canyon

Tin Mine Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:48 - The mine

0:48 – The mine

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

0:52 - Oaks and sandstone

0:52 – Oaks and sandstone

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

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

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

0:55 - End of the trail

0:55 – End of the trail

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

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

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

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

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)


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Sunset over Old Saddleback from the Big C

Sunset and Old Saddleback from the Big “C”

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big "C"

San Gabriel Mountains from the Big “C”

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:40 - Respect the C

0:40 – Be a man: Respect the “C”

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

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis


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Palm tree at Jane's Hoffbrau Oasis

Palm tree at Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

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

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

Jane’s Hoffbrau Oasis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:30 - Getting close....

0:30 – Getting close….

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

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

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

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

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

Dripping Springs Trail/Agua Tibia Wilderness


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San Gorgonio and San Jacinto from the Dripping Springs Trail

San Gorgonio and San Jacinto from the Dripping Springs Trail

Dusk in the Agua Tibia Wilderness

Dusk in the Agua Tibia Wilderness

Dripping Springs Trail/Agua Tibia Wilderness

  • Location: Cleveland National Forest, east of Temecula.  From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 10.5 miles to the Dripping Springs Campground.  Turn right and park in the signed day use area.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.  The $5 day use fee can also be paid at the trailhead.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 7.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: Vail Lake
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead at the Dripping Springs Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trailhead at the Dripping Springs Campground (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The hot and dry Agua Tibia Wilderness doesn’t seem very inviting – and it isn’t. Most of the terrain is exposed and while the trail does take in some excellent views of the surrounding area, it doesn’t have the scenic variety of the higher country of the Palomar Mountains.  However, with easy terrain, straightforward navigation and a moderate grade, the Dripping Springs Trail is a great training hike. It can be done as a day trip from Riverside or San Diego; even L.A. or Orange County given an early start. Another advantage of starting early is that most of the ascent is on west-facing slopes, meaning that despite the lack of shade, the sun won’t be too hot.

0:09 - Information board at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

0:11 – Information board at the beginning of the trail (times are approximate)

From the day use area, walk 0.4 miles on a paved road through the campground. The oaks and sycamores you see are, sadly, bait-and-switch; you won’t be seeing more of them until much higher up on the hill. At the far end of the campground, you reach an information board where you’ll sign a register and begin your climb on the Dripping Springs Trail.

1:20 - Ascending the side of the canyon t

1:25 – Ascending the side of the canyon

Cross the streambed of Arroyo Seco, exercising caution if water is flowing, and stay right at a junction. (The Wildhorse Trail on the left would be your return route if you decide to make an ambitious 20-mile loop hike, an option for backpackers or day hikers who don’t mind a very long day.) You begin a steady ascent, negotiating some switchbacks, and as you climb you get some nice views of Toro Peak, San Jacinto, Vail Lake, San Gorgonio and farther up, Old Saddleback and the San Gabriels.

2:10 - Can you spot the Palomar Mountain Observatory?

2:20 – Can you spot the Palomar Mountain Observatory?

The vegetation becomes a little thicker as you cross the top of a tributary of the Arroyo Seco. At 5 miles, the trail descends to a saddle where you may be able to pick out the white dome of the Palmoar Mountain Observatory on the left. The trail continues its ascent, reaching some pines and then a pleasant oak woodland; a good camping spot.

2:50 - Pines

3:05 – Pines

Shortly after, you reach the end of the Dripping Springs Trail. If you’ve still got gas in the tank, head left on the Palmoar Magee Trail and go 0.2 miles to a vista point (7 miles). With great views to the south, including the ocean, this is a good turnaround point for day hikers. More intrepid souls might want to continue 3 miles to the Crosley Truck Trail, which descends back (becoming the Wildhorse Trail) to the trail head for an impressive 20 miles.  Note: as of this writing the trail is easy to follow and in good shape, but it is susceptible to the weather.  If there have been recent heavy rains, contact the ranger station via the link above to check on the trail conditions.

3:20 - Oak grove near the top of the Dripping Springs trail

3:20 – Oak grove near the top of the Dripping Springs trail

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM JOEL ROBINSON OF WWW.NATURALISTFORYOU.ORG: The Chaparral features some intriguing textures, colors, and smells, including the shredded red bark of the Ribbonwood, the silvery fuzz of the Thick-leaved Yerba Santa, the minty fragrance of the Black Sage and the stretched taffy-like trunks of the Hoary-leaved Ceanothus.  Scan the trail for the rarely seen San Diego Horned Lizard, an adorable “miniature dinosaur,” who forages for harvester ants.  Matilija poppies, popcorn flower, bush lupine, and peony can be seen in the spring time. The principal rocks of the primitive area are crystalline and consist of both metamorphic and plutonic varieties.

3:30 - Ocean view from the Palomar Magee trail; suggested turnaround point

3:30 – Ocean view from the Palomar Magee trail; suggested turnaround point

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

Pinhead Peak (Caspers Wilderness Park)


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Old Saddleback from Pinhead Peak

Old Saddleback from Pinhead Peak

Pinhead Peak (Caspers Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Ortega Highway (route 74) east for 7 1/2 miles.  The park is on your left.  Admission is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.  Drive on the park’s main road and park at the lot near the historic red windmill.  The trail begins on the back side of the lot, near a smaller metal windmill.
  • Agency: Caspers Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  All year
  • USGS topo map: “Canada Gobernadora”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Trailhead behind the windmill (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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

Pinhead Peak (elevation 662 feet) is not the highest point in Caspers Wilderness Park but due to its prominence the views from the top are excellent and while the climb is short, it’s steep enough to get the heart pumping.

0:03 - Sycamores on the west side of Bell Canyon, heading south toward Pinhead Peak (times are approximate)

0:03 – Sycamores on the west side of Bell Canyon(times are approximate)

From the parking area by the older metal windmill (in back of the more famous red one) follow the sign for Pinhead Peak. Cross Bell Canyon and continue through a pleasant grove of sycamores, heading south through a meadow. At about 0.2 miles, the trail makes a sharp right and heads briefly through some oaks before beginning the ascent.

0:08 - Hard right turn

0:08 – Hard right turn

You climb to a plateau, take a sharp left (look for the sign pointing to the trail) and continue through a field where you get a nice view of Old Saddleback. Another short but steep ascent brings you to the first of two summits (0.7 miles). The trail drops about 100 feet and rises again to another summit, the turnaround point at 0.9 miles. Here you can enjoy a nearly aerial perspective of the southern end of the park. The distant views include Old Saddleback and the Santa Anas, the San Juan Canyon and the San Joaquin Hills. The ocean isn’t quite visible but the panorama is still sufficient reward for your efforts.

0:15 - View of Old Saddleback from the meadow, top of the first ascent

0:15 – View of Old Saddleback from the meadow, top of the first ascent

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

0:25 - Looking down from the south end of Pinhead Peak

0:25 – Looking down from the south end of Pinhead Peak

Towers Loop (Box Springs Mountain Park)


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San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Peaks from Box Springs Mountain Park

San Gorgonio and San Bernardino Peaks from Box Springs Mountain Park

Grassy field on the Edison Trail

Grassy field on the Edison Trail

Towers Loop (Box Springs Mountain Park)

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:15 - Rejoin the service road and head left

0:15 – Rejoin the service road and head left

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

0:38 - Turn right and head toward the antennas

0:38 – Turn right and head toward the antennas

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

0:45 - Another right turn, another antenna

0:45 – Another right turn, another antenna

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

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

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

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

1:11 - Right turn on the Edison Trail

1:16 – Right turn on the Edison Trail

Indian Mountain


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Looking southwest from Indian Mountain's summit

Looking southwest from Indian Mountain’s summit

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

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

Indian Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

0:41 - Looking south from the fire road

0:41 – Looking south from the fire road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:15 - Boulders on the summit of Indian Mountain

1:15 – Boulders on the summit of Indian Mountain

West Horsethief/Trabuco Canyon Loop


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Lake Elsinore as seen from Main Divide Road

Lake Elsinore as seen from Main Divide Road

Live oaks and sunlight in Trabuco Canyon

Live oaks and sunlight in Trabuco Canyon

West Horsethief/Trabuco Canyon Loop

  • Location: Trabuco Canyon, eastern Orange County.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take El Toro Road northeast for 6 miles.  At Cook’s Corner, take a hard right onto Live Oak and drive four miles.  Shortly past O’Neill Park, right after Rose Canyon Road, take a left on Trabuco Creek Road, an unmarked dirt road.  Note that vehicles with high clearances are recommended.  Drive for 5.7 miles to the end of this rough dirt road, about a mile past the Holy Jim Trailhead.  Before the gate that ends the road, there is a small parking area with room for about six cars.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
  • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
  • Best season: November – April
  • USGS topo map: “Santiago Peak”; “Alberhill”
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Meetup description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9
0:00 - Trailhead at the end of Trabuco Creek Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Trailhead at the end of Trabuco Creek Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This challenging hike is one of the most scenic and varied in Orange County, if not all of So Cal.  Highlights include panoramic views (pending good visibility) of San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Baldy, Catalina and more; shaded canyons filled with oaks and sycamores, pine groves, geology and more.

0:08 - Abandoned car (times are approximate)

0:08 – Abandoned car (times are approximate)

The trail starts at the end of Trabuco Canyon Road, almost a mile past the Holy Jim trailhead. Cross the gate and begin hiking on the Trabuco Canyon Trail which makes its way gradually uphill through towering oaks and sycamores. The trail goes in and out of a meadow, crosses the stream bed twice and follows the north side of the canyon. Keep an eye out for pine trees on the opposite ridge as you ascend. At 1.4 miles, stay left as a false trail branches off to the right.

0:44 - Junction with the West Horsethief Trail

0:44 – Junction with the West Horsethief Trail

About a quarter mile later you reach a junction with the West Horsethief Trail. If it’s late in the day you might want to ascend on the more gradual Trabuco Canyon Trail (right), but if it’s early and you want to get the most labor-intensive climbing out of the way, head left on the Horsethief Trail. The distance from the junction to Main Divide Road is about the same as from the trailhead to the junction – but it gains almost twice as much elevation. The good news is that the trail is primarily on western-facing slopes, so with an early start, you won’t have to deal with the sun. The higher you climb, the better the views are; the slice of Trabuco Canyon below you is particularly striking. That being said, however, the intensity of the ascent is likely to test the morale of even experienced hikers.

1:42 - Ocean view from the West Horsethief Trail

1:42 – Ocean view from the West Horsethief Trail

After climbing over a thousand feet in about a mile and a quarter, the trail starts leveling out. You may be encouraged to see Main Divide Road on your left, and the remainder of the climb to it is more gentle, traveling through an attractive grove of pines. At 3.2 miles from the start you reach Main Divide Road where you’ll turn right and head east. Through a “window” in the pines, you get a good look at San Gorgonio Mountain and a little bit later, after passing by the turnoff for the East Horsethief Trail (“landlocked” by private property at the lower end), you get as good a look at Lake Elsinore as you’re likely to ever see.

1:46 - View of Main Divide Road from the West Horsethief Trail

1:46 – View of Main Divide Road from the West Horsethief Trail

You continue following Main Divide for a total of 2.6 fairly easy miles (watch out for dirt bikes) to Munhall Saddle, 5.9 miles from the start and at 4,194 feet, the highest point in the loop. From the saddle you can enjoy a nice view to the south before beginning the next leg of the hike, the upper end of the Trabuco Canyon Trail.

1:57 - Turn right on Main Divide Road

1:57 – Turn right on Main Divide Road

Take a hard right and begin your descent, traveling through a thick grove of pines and black oaks. There may be parts of Orange County that feel more remote, but it’s hard to imagine where; this is truly a place to get away from it all.

3:06 - Looking south from Munhall Saddle

3:06 – Looking south from Munhall Saddle

At 6.6 miles, the trail makes a switchback, briefly leaving the woods and providing a nice view of Santiago Peak. You continue down through more woods before emerging at a tree which (as of this writing) is seasonally decorated. Ignore the spur leading to the right and make a hairpin left turn, continuing your descent. The next stretch of Trabuco Canyon closely hugs the wall, providing dramatic views below.

3:34 - Merry Christmas!

3:34 – Merry Christmas!

At 8.4 miles, you reach the bottom of Trabuco Canyon and return to the junction. Turn left and retrace your steps back down the lower end of the Trabuco Trail, 1.6 miles to the parking area.

4:00 - View of Santiago Peak from the Trabuco Canyon Trail

4:00 – View of Santiago Peak from the Trabuco Canyon Trail

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

4:27 - Sycamores in Trabuco Canyon, just before the return to the junction with the West Horsethief Trail

4:27 – Sycamores in Trabuco Canyon, just before the return to the junction with the West Horsethief Trail

Skyline Mountain Way/Brand Motorway Loop (Verdugo Mountains)


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San Gabriels from the Verdugo Fire Road

San Gabriels from the Verdugo Fire Road

Los Angeles skyline from the Brand Motorway

Los Angeles skyline from the Brand Motorway

Skyline Mountain Way/Brand Motorway Loop (Verdugo Mountains)

    • Location: Intersectionof Via Montana and Camino de Villas, Burbank.  From L.A. take I-5 to the Olive Avenue exit.  Turn left on First St. and then right on Olive, and drive a total of 1.5 miles.  (Olive becomes Country Club Drive).  Turn right on Via Montana, go 0.2 miles and park where available on the street.  (Check the signs for parking restrictions).  From the north, take I-5 to Verdugo Avenue.  Turn left on Front St., cross under the freeway and merge onto Verdugo Avenue.  Go 0.4 miles to Glenoaks, turn left and go 0.2 miles to Olive.  Turn right and drive 1.1 miles to the intersection with Via Montana, turn right and go 0.2 miles to the intersection with Camino De Villas.
    • Agency:  City of Glendale Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 8.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain,  distance, trail condition)
    • Suggested time: 4 hours
    • Best season:  November – April
    • USGS topo maps: “Burbank”
    • Recommended gear: sun block; sun hat; hiking poles; long sleeved shirts and pants
    • More information: Verdugo Mountains Yelp page here; description of the Skyline Mountain Way portion of the hike here; Verdugo Mountains Summit Post page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike; cross over to the Skyline Mountain Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike; cross over to Skyline Mountain Way (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is one of the more challenging of the many possible hiking routes in the Verdugo Mountains.  It features an interesting mix of abandoned and modern fire roads, fire breaks and city streets.  Like the other hikes in the Verdugo Mountains, if the air is clear, the views are extensive, including downtown L.A., Catalina Island, the San Gabriels and much more. The loop can be hiked in either direction but when done clockwise, as described below, the ridge shields you from the morning sun on the western-facing ascent.

0:40 - Lone oak on the Skyline Mountain Way (times are approximate)

0:40 – Lone oak on  Skyline Mountain Way (times are approximate)

From the corner of Via Montana and Camino de Villas, head across a dirt lot and climb a steep embankment to the Skyline Mountain Way, an abandoned fire road. The hike starts of gradually but soon begins a steady ascent; you’ll climb about 1,600 feet in less than three miles. As you get higher the views open up. The trail becomes more overgrown although the going shouldn’t be too difficult.

0:45 - Difficult terrain on Skyline Mountain Way

0:45 – Difficult terrain on Skyline Mountain Way

At about 1.6 miles you pass a solitary oak; this is a nice spot to take a breather. Soon afterward you encounter a tricky stretch where the trail is washed out. Expect to use your hands and feet as you make your way across this short but potentially treacherous section, climbing up a particularly steep and loose embankment before making a hairpin right turn and continuing the climb.

1:15 - Enjoying the view of the San Gabriels from the top of the loop

1:15 – Enjoying the view of the San Gabriels from the top of the loop

The ascent becomes more moderate and at 2.5 miles, you meet up with the Verdugo Fire Road, the main route across the top of the range, at a saddle with some great views of the San Gabriel Mountains. You can bear left on the fire road or head uphill on a steeper fire break. The two routes soon meet at a junction where a bench allows you to enjoy views both to the north and the south.

2:30 - Sycamores near the bottom of the Brand Motorway

2:30 – Sycamores near the bottom of the Brand Motorway

The rest of the hike is rather tame by comparison; some hikers might want to turn around at this point and return via the same route. However, for those who want to continue and make the hike a loop, start your descent on the Brand Motorway. It drops steadily for the next 3.3 miles, winding around the ridges. At 6 miles from the start, the road becomes paved; stay right at a junction and continue your descent, arriving at Brand Park, where you can take a look at the former estate of the Brand family and the public library dating back to the early 1900s.

2:50 - The road becomes paved above Brand Park

2:50 – The road becomes paved above Brand Park

At 6.8 miles, you pass through a gate and end up on Mountain Street. Turn right and follow it for 1.2 miles, during which it becomes Sunset Canyon. Several blocks do not have sidewalks, so exercise appropriate caution. When you reach Tujunga Avenue turn right and begin a steep climb uphill (again, no sidewalks so watch out for cars, especially since this section of the road has several blind curves.) Tujunga becomes Camino de Villas, which you will follow back to your starting point.

3:00 - Back to civilization: Brand Park

3:00 – Back to civilization: Brand Park

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

Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)


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Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Morning sun at the Pushwalla Palm Grove, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Following the ridge on Bee Rock Mesa, Coachella Valley Preserve

Coachella Valley Preserve (Pushwalla, Horseshoe & Hidden Palms)

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

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

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

0:05 - The stairs (times are approximate)

0:05 – The stairs (times are approximate)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1:50 - Hidden Palms Oasis

1:50 – Hidden Palms Oasis

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

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

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

Sierra Peak


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Looking east toward San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Sierra Peak

Looking east toward San Gorgonio and San Jacintofrom Sierra Peak

Skyline Drive, the route to Sierra Peak

Descending from Sierra Peak via Skyline Drive

Sierra Peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fisherman’s Camp Loop (San Mateo Canyon Wilderness)


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Fall colors in San Mateo Canyon

Fall colors in San Mateo Canyon

Sunlight through the oaks, San Mateo Canyon

Sunlight through the oaks, San Mateo Canyon

Fisherman’s Camp Loop (San Mateo Canyon Wilderness)

  • Location: Southeast Riverside County, Cleveland National Forest.  From I-15 in Murrieta, take the Clinton Keith Road exit and head southwest (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from the south).  Go a total of 6.8 miles, past the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.  On the way, the street name changes to Tenaja Road.  Take a right at a junction to stay on Tenaja Road (if you find yourself on Via Volcano or at the Vernal Pools trailhead, you’ve come too far).  Go 4.2 miles to Cleveland Forest Road and turn right.  Go a total of 3.7 miles on Cleveland Forest Road – which is one lane so exercise caution – and look for the Fisherman’s Camp Trailhead and a small dirt turnout on the left.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) are required.  Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 5.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: “Sitton Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (out and back to Fisherman’s Camp); Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the Fisherman's Camp Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the Fisherman’s Camp Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable hike visits both the high and low country of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, providing panoramic mountain views and secluded stretches through thick woodlands.  You’re not likely to have much company here, except perhaps on busy holiday weekends.

0:20 - View of the mountains on the descent to Fisherman's Camp (times are approximate)

0:20 – View of the mountains on the descent to Fisherman’s Camp (times are approximate)

From the Fisherman’s Camp trailhead, you begin the hike by entering an attractive grove of oaks. The trail then exits the woods and follows an exposed ridge, providing good views into the canyon and of the mountains across the way. After staying more or less level for about 0.7 miles the trail begins a twisting descent into the canyon. During the fall, you get a nice aerial view of the sycamore foliage below.

0:45 - Heading north from Fisherman's Camp toward the Tenaja Falls Trailhead

0:45 – Heading north from Fisherman’s Camp toward the Tenaja Falls Trailhead

At 1.6 miles, you reach a junction. Continue a tenth of a mile to Fisherman’s Camp, an attractive spot shaded by huge oaks, where the Tenaja Trail intersects. After enjoying the quiet, retrace your steps and take the left fork, heading deeper into wooded San Mateo Canyon. You cross a rocky wash and climb out of the canyon. The trail soon drops back down to the stream bed and crosses another wash. You then reach a junction where you’ll stay left and climb out of the canyon again, soon reaching a junction with a fairly recently created trail that stays above the canyon floor, closely following the east wall. (The original trail, which branches off to the left, follows the creek, crossing it a few times.)

0:48 - Crossing the wash just north of Fisherman's Camp

0:48 – Crossing the wash just north of Fisherman’s Camp

The two trails merge in another grove of oaks, about 3.4 miles from the start. You continue to a T-junction with the Tenaja Falls Trail, where you will turn right and walk 0.1 miles back to the street. Turn right and follow the road 1.5 miles back to the Fisherman’s Camp Trailhead, completing the loop. As far as paved roads go, this one’s pretty enjoyable: traffic is usually very light (if any), and the road provides some nice vistas of the canyon.

1:00 - Bear left and climb out of the canyon

1:05 – Bear left and climb out of the canyon

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

2:05 - Right turn on Cleveland Forest Road; follow it 1.5 miles back to your car

2:05 – Right turn on Cleveland Forest Road; follow it 1.5 miles back to your car


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