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.
Fisherman’s Camp via Tenaja Trail
- Location: Santa Ana Mountains southeast of Lake Elsinore. From I-15 in Murrieta, exit Clinton Keith Road, and drive 5 miles south (past the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve). On the way, the street becomes Tenaja Road. Another 1.7 miles later, go right to remain on Tenaja Road, and 4.2 miles later, take a right onto Cleveland Forest Road. After a mile, the trailhead will be on the left. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Division
- Distance: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain, trail condition)
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: Wildomar; Sitton Peak
- Recommended gear: insect repellent; hiking poles
- More information: here
- Rating: 8
Fisherman’s Camp is a primitive trail camp deep in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness in the southeast corner of the Cleveland National Forest’s Trabuco District. As the crow flies, it’s not all that far from San Diego, Riverside or Orange Counties–or even L.A.–but it is rarely visited, and provides hikers with a sense of solitude that is hard to find. When I was there, the last name on the registration sheet at the trailhead had been signed two days earlier, and the only other people I saw the whole time were a couple having a picnic lunch in the parking lot when I got back.
If you’re going to do this hike, know that you’ll be in for a little bit of a challenge. Even the trail name can be a little confusing: this is the Tenaja Trail, not to be confused with the Tenaja Falls Trail farther north. Cleveland Forest Road, which is rarely maintained, is prone to flooding during the wet months, although in a total of four visits to this area I haven’t had any real problems. The Tenaja Trail itself is overgrown in places, but by and large isn’t too hard to follow.
From the parking lot, head down into the canyon on the Tenaja Trail. Across the meadow, you get nice views of Santiago Peak from a rarely seen angle. About half a mile in, you enter the woods and take a right where a false trail leads straight. For the next couple of miles, the trail heads in and out of thick pockets of live oaks, clinging to the side of the canyon.
At about two and a half miles in, the trail begins to switchback steeply down to the floor of the canyon, crossing it a couple of times, and a mile later, it arrives at Fisherman’s Camp. Once a drive-in campground, Fisherman’s Camp is now only accessible by trail. In addition to the Tenaja Trail, the Fisherman’s Camp trail heads to the east, hooking up with Wildomar Road (the extension of Cleveland Forest Road) and the San Mateo Trail heads north. For those whose thirst for adventure hasn’t been quenched, the Tenaja Trail continues west and then north, eventually arriving at Four Corners, the five-way trail junction just south of the Candy Store off of Ortega Highway.