Difficulty PG13 Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Dogs allowed Orange County - Santa Ana Mountains & Foothills Rating: 7-8 Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Bear Canyon Loop


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Santa Ana Mountains from the Bear Ridge Trail, Cleveland National Forest
View of Santiago Peak from the Bear Ridge Trail
Live oaks on the Bear Canyon Trail, Santa Ana Mountains, CA
Oaks on the Bear Canyon Trail

Bear Canyon Loop

  • Location:  Southwestern Riverside County in the Santa Ana Mountains.  From Orange County, take highway 74 northeast for 21 miles and park on the left side of the road at the signed Bear Canyon/San Juan Loop trail head. From Lake Elsinore, look parking lot on the right side side of the road after 11 miles, across from the Candy Store.  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: 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo maps:  Sitton Peak
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles; Sun Hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Orange County
  • More information: here; trip reports here and here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7

Hikers looking for more of a challenge than the San Juan Loop but aren’t quite ready for Sitton Peak will enjoy this balloon-shaped hike which explores the edge of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.

From the parking area, carefully cross Highway 74 and pick up the signed trail in back of the Candy Store. The trail ascends moderately through exposed chaparral, passing by several granite boulders, offering views down San Juan Canyon toward the ocean. After about 3/4 of a mile you cross the official wilderness boundary and enter an attractive oak woodland.

Soon after you reach a junction where the Morgan Trail branches off to the left. The Bear Canyon Trail stays right, ascending out of the woods and making some switchbacks. Over the next mile, you gain about half of the total elevation on the whole hike, climbing about 500 feet to enter another woodland where you reach a four-way junction: the start of the loop.

The left fork leads to private property. Your route heads either straight (the Bear Ridge Trail) or right (continuation of the Bear Canyon Trail.) Assuming you decide to go right first, you follow the Bear Canyon Trail for a pleasant, mostly shaded 1.1 miles to a spot called Four Corners. There are actually five different trails that meet here. The route immediately on your right heads toward Sitton Peak. The routes in front of you, the Verdugo Truck Trail and Tenaja Trail, lead deeper into the wilderness. Your route back is a hard left on the Bear Ridge Trail.

The Bear Ridge Trail follows a ridge between San Mateo Canyon on the right and Bear Canyon on the left. You get excellent views of Santiago Peak and the Santa Ana Mountains; if visibility is good, you can see San Gorgonio and the Palomars in the distance. The route isn’t as shaded as the Bear Canyon Trail but there are no serious ascents or descents to worry about.

About a mile from Four Corners, the trail bends gradually to the northwest and enters the woods again, where it returns to the junction (4.5 miles from the start). Retrace your steps down the hill, two miles back to Ortega Highway.

Text and photography copyright 2014 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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2 comments

  1. This was such a great hike! The brownie I picked up at the Candy Store really hit the spot about half way through… Thanks for being our private guide D-Lock! This is one I’d definitely do again!

  2. Yeah – it was a good one. I didn’t want to post it because it was so so similar to Sitton Peak, but I guess there’s enough difference between the two. Besides with all this rain I haven’t been able to get out to do any new ones. Hope we can do another one soon once everything dries up!

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