- Location: Southwestern Riverside County in the Santa Ana Mountains. From Orange County, take highway 74 northeast for 21 miles and park at the Ortega Oaks Country Store (the “Candy Store”) on the right side of the road, across from the San Juan Loop trailhead. From Lake Elsinore, look for the Candy Store on the left side of the road after 11 miles. 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 District
- Distance: 9.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,150 feet
- Suggested time: 5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, steepness, elevation gain)
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: Sitton Peak
- Recommended Gear: Hiking Poles; Sun Hat
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- More information: here; trip reports here.
- Rating: 8
From most of Orange County, Sitton Peak is visible as a low, roundish bump south of Los Pinos Peak and the famous Old Saddleback formation. Its elevation of 3,293 feet may not sound impressive, but the views from the top are great and there is a lot of good stuff to see on the way.
The Bear Canyon trail leaves the Candy Store parking lot, winding up into the hills and taking in nice vistas of San Juan Canyon. After a mile, stay right as the Morgan Trail branches off, and begin switchbacking up a ridge to a junction. Here, you can take a hard right and head through the woods toward Four Corners, or continue straight on the Bear Ridge trail, a slightly longer route that ends up at the same spot.
Like the Four Corners of Chino Hills State Park, this one is slightly misnamed, in that there are actually five trails that meet here. You are now about 2/3 of the way to Sitton Peak but still have some climbing to do, and with nice views of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, Four Corners makes a great spot for a break.
The five trails that meet here include the Bear Canyon Trail that you just came in on and the Bear Ridge trail which leads back to the junction (many people enjoy making a loop hike of the Bear Ridge and Bear Canyon trails, which totals about 6.7 miles from the Candy Store). There is also the Tenaja Trail, which leads to Fisherman’s Camp, and the Verdugo Trail, which leads deeper into the wilderness. Your trail is the fifth, which heads west (it is the one immediately to the right of the Bear Canyon Trail as you enter the clearing) and should be signed for Sitton Peak.
The trail ascends to an unnamed bump (3,250 feet), and then descends to a saddle, where you look for a narrow trail on the right heading up a steep ridge. This last half mile or so is the most difficult part of the hike–poles will certainly help–as the trail is steep, loose and at times hard to follow. When in doubt, just go up and make sure that there’s something within grabbing distance.
Soon it levels out at a ridge; bear to the left and make you way to the highest bump. From the Sitton summit, you get nice views of the ocean, Old Saddleback and other Santa Ana summits and on clear days Catalina and San Clemente Islands.
I gave Sitton an “R” rating due to its length and the difficult final stretch, but it is probably the easiest of all the hikes in that category. If the whole thing sounds a little difficult, consider making Four Corners your destination and looping back on the Bear Ridge Trail. Either way you won’t be disappointed.