Oso & Juaneno Loop in Caspers Wilderness Park

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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

Cactus flower on the Oso Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park
The historic windmill at Caspers Wilderness Park

Text and photography copyright 2010 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.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Oso & Juaneno Loop in 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 San Juan Meadow group area by the visitor center.
      • Agency: Caspers Wilderness Park
      • Distance: 9 miles
      • Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
      • Suggested time: 5 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain, trail condition)
      • Best season:  October – April
      • USGS topo map: “Canada Gobernadora”
      • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
      • More information: here
      • Rating: 8

If you have the time and energy, be sure to check out this loop to the back part of Caspers Wilderness Park.  Caspers is large, but most of the trails are in the front end of the park, so in addition to being a great workout with some nice views of the Santa Anas and the coastal plains of Orange County, this long loop hike will give you some solitude.

From the San Juan Meadow campground, head up the paved road, passing by the windmill.  After about a mile, the paved road ends at the last parking lot and the Bell Canyon trail becomes a fire road, leading north.   After another mile, bear right onto the Cougar Pass Trail and begin your ascent.  The scenery includes interesting rock formations close up, the Santa Ana Mountains to the right and the west ridge to the left.

After passing by a few oaks, the Cougar Pass trail ends at the Oso Trail.  Take a right and follow the ridge northeast.  A gazebo is visible in the distance, marking the highest point (1,470 feet) of the trip, approximately half way through the loop.  The climbing becomes more vigorous, gaining almost 800 feet in less than two miles, but the views of the Santa Anas are even better than before, and when the cactus flowers are in bloom, there’s a lot to see at ground level too.  (Just don’t get to close!)

At the gazebo, which makes a great rest stop, take the steep Badger Pass trail, which abruptly drops almost a thousand feet in just over a mile, meeting up with the San Juan Creek trail.  Take a right and start heading south.

After 0.2 miles, you have the option of continuing on the San Juan Creek trail, which parallels highway 74–not a bad option if you’re tired.  Or, if you want a little more of a challenge, take a right and pick up the Juaneno Trail.  The Juaneno Trail is a little rough at times; I had to climb over a fallen oak or two, but you are immersed in the natural scenery and farther away from the road.  There are also a few creek crossings to negotiate.  After 3.4 miles, the trail ends back at the San Juan Meadow campground.

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