Chiquito Falls, Cleveland National Forest

Chiquito Falls from San Juan Trail

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  • Location: Santa Ana Mountains in eastern Orange County. From Highway 74/Ortega Highway, 22 miles northeast of the 5 Freeway and 6.5 miles west of Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore, turn north onto Long Canyon Road (left if you are coming from O.C.; right if you are coming from Lake Elsinore). Follow Long Canyon Road for a total of 2.4 miles. The road is narrow and winding so exercise caution. The San Juan Trailhead will be on the left, just before the entrance to the Blue Jay Campground. Approximate coordinates are N 33.65171, W 117.44185.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: November – June (best after recent rains)
  • Dogs: Allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Weak to fair at the trail head and for the first half mile or so; none for the rest of the route
  • Water: None (if there have been recent rains, there may be enough water in Lion Canyon to make bringing a filter worth it)
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: The trail is located next to the Blue Jay Campground ($20 per night). Remote camping is allowed as well but there aren’t many sites on this route that are ideal for tent camping.
  • More information: Hiking Project page here; Yelp Page here; Map My Hike page here
  • Rating: 8

Updated February 2019

Completed in 1974, the 6-mile Chiquito Trail links the San Juan Trail to the San Juan Loop Trail. In wet winters, the highlight of the trip is 15-foot Chiquito Falls, which sits almost at exactly the halfway point of the route. Even if the falls are dry, the hike to get there is enjoyable. Many hikers visit starting from the south, via the San Juan Loop as described here, but the route from the north is more isolated and arguably more scenic. If you are able to leave a car at the Candy Store, you can do the hike as a 9-mile shuttle.

This write-up starts from the San Juan Trailhead, outside the campground. (The Old San Juan Trail, located inside the campground, is an alternate starting point.) The San Juan Trail leaves Long Canyon Road and skirts the upper edge of Lion Canyon, providing views of the El Cariso Hotshots camp and Sugarloaf Mountain to the south. The trail weaves in and out of oak woodlands, passing a few spurs on the right that lead to the campground. At 1.3 miles from the start, you reach the first of two junctions with the Old San Juan Trail. Continue straight, entering the woods again, and descend 400 feet over the next 0.6 mile to a second junction. The Old San Juan Trail continues downhill to Chiquito Basin. Stay straight and follow the San Juan trail another 0.2 mile to a junction with the Chiquito Trail on the left. A sign erroneously lists the distance to Ortega Highway as 8.2 miles (it’s a little under 7).

Head left on the Chiquito Trail and follow it downhill 0.6 mile to a junction with the Viejo Tie Trail. If you are hiking at a time when there has not been much rain and the waterfall is likely dry, a good alternative is to make a loop by heading right on the Viejo Tie Trail and following it back to the San Juan Trail, then heading back for a 7-mile hike. To get to the falls, head left and continue on the Chiquito Trail, entering the oak and sycamore-shaded lower reaches of Lion Canyon.

For the next almost 2 miles, the trail follows the creek, crossing it twice. The second crossing can be a little tricky if there have been heavy rains. At about 4 miles from the start, a tributary creek flows into Lion Canyon, creating a small waterfall. The trail then appears to separate from the creek before leaving the woods. At about 4.5 miles, the trail bends to the left. A short use trail on the returns you to the creek at the top of Chiquito Falls. Moderate rock scrambling brings you to the bottom where, if water is flowing, it gathers in a large pool.

As for the name? Chiquito was former ranger Ken Munhall’s horse.

San Juan Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Start of the San Juan Trail
San Juan Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Upper junction with the old San Juan Trail
Chiquito Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Oaks on the Chiquito Trail past the junction with the Viejo Tie Trail
Chiquito Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Stream crossing on the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Turnoff for the waterfall spur
Chiquito Falls, Cleveland National Forest
Chiquito Falls
Lion Canyon, Cleveland National Forest
Looking down Lion Canyon from the top of Chiquito Falls
San Juan Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Dusk on the San Juan Trail
Text and photography copyright 2019 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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