Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail

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Dana Point from the Ridgeline Trail
The 'burbs, and the 'Back, from the Ridgeline Trail

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.

Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail

  • Location: 721 Avenida Salvador, San Clemente.  From the north, take I-5 to the El Camino Real exit.  Turn left on south El Camino Real, go 0.2 miles and head left on Avenida San Juan.  Go 0.7 miles and turn left on Avenida Salvador.  The trailhead is between Calle Montserrat and Calle Ameno on the right side of the street.  If you are coming from San Diego, take the El Camino Real exit and head right.  Take an immediate left on Avenida San Juan.
  • Agency:  City of San Clemente
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: “San Clemente”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: trip report here; map here
  • Rating: 5

San Clemente’s Ridgeline Trail provides a good workout with a lot of nice views, including Old Saddleback, the ocean, northern San Diego county, Catalina and San Clemente Islands, and if you’re lucky, Mt. Baldy.  It’s also conveniently located, not far from the freeway.  The only catch, if this sort of thing bugs you, is that it’s paved.   It’s also quite popular, and it never really leaves the sights or sounds of the south Orange County suburbs, but on a clear day, the views are hard to beat.  The ups and downs make it a great cardio workout, and even veteran hikers who live in the area will find it useful as a training trail.

From Avenida Salvador, enter through the gate and immediately begin a short but steep ascent.  You pass by a water tank, and when the route levels out, you are on the ridgeline between San Diego and Orange Counties.  After a mile or so, the trail dips to the right of some radio towers, and begins another short, but very steep stretch which will surely have your heart pumping.  You are rewarded for your efforts with a nice stretch beneath the shade of some willows (more or less the only shade on the trip).

Soon you arrive at a picnic area, which is the approximate half way point.  Take a break if you like and then head down to Calle Del Cerro.  Head right and pick up the remainder of the trail across the street.  You head up, down and then up again, finally arriving at a place called Knob Hill, where there are two benches.  Here you can enjoy a nice view of the ocean before heading back.

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