Laurel Springs

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Hills above Harding Canyon
Bush poppies on the Harding Truck Trail

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.

Laurel Springs

  • Location: In Silverado, in the Santa Ana Mountain foothills.  Park across from the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary at 29322 Modjeska Canyon Road.  From the 55 freeway, take the Chapman Ave. exit and head east for a total of 13.5 miles (Chapman becomes Santiago Canyon Road along the way). Take a left on Modjeska Canyon Road.  Go 0.8 miles and turn left at the small traffic island to stay on Modjeska Canyon Road.  Go a mile to the sanctuary and park on the street.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the El Toro exit and go northeast for 7.5 miles.  Just past Cook’s Corner, take a right on Modjeska Grade Road.  This is a steep, winding road with a lot of blind spots, so be careful.  After a mile, take a hairpin turn to the right and go 0.3 miles to the junction with Modjeska Canyon.  Take a right on Modjeska Canyon Road.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Traubco District
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,300 feet
  • Suggested time: 5.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season:  October – May
  • USGS Topo Map: “Santiago Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: here and here
  • Rating: 8

The Harding Truck Trail goes almost 10 miles from the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Silverado to Main Divide Road, just below Modjeska Peak.  Laurel Springs is about halfway up, and makes a popular destination.  While this hike is certainly an endurance test, the navigation and terrain couldn’t be easier, and the grade is never too steep.  Be aware that there is virtually no shade on the trail, so plan accordingly.

From the parking area, take the left fork of the paved road.  Look for the Harding Truck Trail branching off to the left (also known as 5S08).  You pass by some interesting geological formations and get a nice view into Harding Canyon on the left.  Stay straight as a trail descends into the canyon, and you pass a sign marking the entrance to the Cleveland National Forest.

After making a brief descent, the trail continues its climb, snaking its way along the ridge.  The views alternate between the deep canyon on the left and the coastal plane of Orange County on the right.  If the air is clear, once you are high enough, you can see Mt. Baldy, Catalina Island and possibly the Santa Monica Mountains.

A little more than four miles in, the trail makes a distinct crossing to the south side of the ridge, and at this point, you may notice a path descending the slope on the other side of the canyon.  This is the route to Laurel Springs.  You’ll be able to hear the springs before you see them, coming from below the trail on the right.  Soon after, look for a trail branching off on the right (you may see a faded white sign indicating Laurel Springs).  You descend this trail and soon arrive at the spring.  The area is somewhat overgrown, and the views are blocked by trees, but the cool water–and the shade–will certainly be a welcome sight for tired hikers.  When your batteries are charged, make your ascent back to the fire road, head left and begin your descent.


  1. I’m still itching my bug bites. 🙂 BRING OFF/CUTTER!!! Damn flies/deer flies/no-see-ums!

    Great hike though! Hard work up hill but worth it for the sence of accomplishment for the novice hiker!

  2. I hiked about a mile up Harding Truck Trail last weekend (11/18/12). Didn’t get far as it was getting too dark and I noticed tracks that suspicously looked as if they could be big cat tracks so I turned back. But the views were amazing, fall colors very pretty. Bugs were not a problem as weather was cool. Definately someplace I’d go back and try hiking a few more miles in at least–with some friends this time. I’ve read recent posts on some sites about the trail to Laurel Springs is overgrown now (?) — has anyone hiked to the springs lately?

  3. Made it to the Springs today ! Weather was perfect, nice and cool. The sign to the spring was missing but the sign post was still there with yellow caution tape as a marker. The trail down the spring was a little tricky with some tree fall but we were not the first ones to have been down there and it wasn’t enough to keep us away after the tough uphill hike. Spring reservoir was full after the recent rains. According to my pedometer we traveled nearly 11miles up and down.

  4. Love to bike up Harding Truck trail for a great workout. The laurel springs is always a great spot to stop and drink some water (filtered of course) and cool off. The spring area has many large fallen trees blocking access, but has been recently cleared by myself to gain better access. Now its much easier to go to the spring and cool off and continue up to Santiago Peak.

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