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.
- 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.