La Ronda/Whispering Hills Loop (San Juan Capistrano)

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Old Saddleback from the West La Ronda Trail
Old Saddleback from the West La Ronda Trail
The short but steep La Mancha Trail
The short but steep La Mancha Trail

La Ronda/Whispering Hills Loop (San Juan Capistrano)

  • Location: San Juan Capistrano.  From I-5, take the Ortega Highway (Highway 74) exit and go east for 0.4 miles (turn left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south).  Turn right on La Novia Ave, go 0.5 miles and turn left on Camino La Ronda.  Go 0.6 miles to the end of Camino La Ronda and park on the corner of Paseo Establo.
  • Agency: City of San Juan Capistrano
  • Distance: 6.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (steepness, distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: San Juan Capistrano
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Trail map and information here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

San Juan Capistrano is known for its historic mission and its seagulls.  Hikers know it as the gateway to Caspers Wilderness Park and the Cleveland National Forest.  But the city itself also has a good trail system.  This double-loop explores several of the city’s trails.  Each half of the loop is a good workout by itself, and combining the two, as described here, will definitely help you burn some calories. A few things to keep in mind: the route is virtually entirely exposed, and passes through several pieces of private land, so stick to the trail. Also, the trails tend to be very popular with equestrians, so as you’re looking up admiring the scenery, remember to look down too.  This route has a lot of trails involved, but navigation is easy: the signage is good, and as close as the trails are to the nearby residential areas, it’s hard to get very lost.

From the end of Camino De La Ronda, just before the entrance to a gated community, head left on the signed South Corales Trail. Almost immediately, you’ll turn right on the East La Ronda Trail, which is also your return route, and begin a steep ascent, rising over 200 feet in about a quarter mile. At the top of a ridge, a lone hitching post stands, making a nice place to rest and look at Old Saddleback.

Continuing along the La Ronda Trail, you reach the Whispering Hills Trail. Head left, make a brief ascent and then a sharp drop. A gradual ascent brings you to a fork (1.4 miles). Head uphill to the right to a picnic area beneath a shade structure where you can take a breather. Continuing along the trail, you head downhill to a junction where you’ll go hard left, soon rejoining the Whispering Hills Trail. Head right and continue your descent.

A short climb brings you to some private property, where the Whispering Hills Trail becomes the Juliana Farms Trail. You round the east end of a ridge, beneath some power lines, and come to a junction. The Juliana Farms Trail continues downhill to San Juan Creek Road, but your route takes you to the left, on the La Mancha Trail. A short but steep climb brings you to a nice view point, where the trail then drops down to Avenida La Mancha, a residential street.

At Avenida La Mancha (2.6 miles from the start), turn left on the bridle path paralleling the street. Turn right on Paseo Sagrado and follow it downhill, back to the starting point, completing the first loop.

To begin the second loop, cross Camino La Ronda and begin hiking on the West La Ronda Trail. You pass by an information board and turn right, paralleling the road for a short distance. At half a mile, bear left and head uphill, making a steep climb of 250 feet in about 0.3 miles. A sharp dip brings you to an intersection with another trail heading up from nearby Via Entrada. You pass by a covered reservoir and service road on the left, and begin hiking on the Entrada Trail. This stretch is pleasantly free of the sights of the nearby housing tracts, making its way around the side of the ridge.

At 5 miles from the start (2 miles into the second loop), you reach a four-way intersection. Here, you get some nice views of the ocean. Take a hard left on the Prima Deshecha Trail, make one last climb, and follow the ridge line, taking in some panoramic views of the Santa Anas.  If visibility is good, you may catch Mt. Baldy and the San Gabriels in the distance.   At 5.4 miles from the start, you return to the junction with the East La Ronda Trail. Turn left and follow it back down to the starting point.

Text and photography copyright 2013 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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