- Location: Southwest Riverside County off of highway 74. From Lake Elsinore, take highway 74 west for 11 miles. The San Juan Loop trail parking lot is on the right, across the street from the Ortega Oaks (Candy) Store. From Orange County, take highway 74 east for 21 miles. The parking lot is on the left. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 day/$30 year) required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Division
- Distance: 2.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 350 feet
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: “Sitton Peak”
- Recommended guidebook:Afoot and Afield: Orange County: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide
- More information: here; trip reports here
- Difficulty rating: PG
- Rating: 7
I’ll admit that my first entry in this blog has a vested interest behind it. The San Juan Loop trail is the first hiking trip I made in southern California, and even after over 300 hikes since then, two and a half years after I first visited it, this little trail holds up well. The hike is not a great summer trip, but with the heavy rainfall of this winter, the vegetation figures to be lusher than usual. The trail makes a great weekend outing for the family, or perhaps a short workout on the way to or from work, when the temperature is likely to be lower.
Leave the parking lot from the north side, following the signed trail up a short rise and then down past a waterfall. After the short spur to the waterfall, the trail curves away from the road, leaving the car noise behind. You descend through oaks and yucca plants and arrive at San Juan Creek. You will pass the turnoff for the Chiquito Trail; keep going through the groves of oaks to the San Juan Campground. You will be next to the road again at this point. Head toward the campground, but pick up a trail on the left side, heading up a rocky slope. A short but steep climb will take you back to the parking lot.