- Location: Southwest Riverside County off of highway 74. From Lake Elsinore, take highway 74 west for 11 miles. The San Juan Loop trail parking lot is on the right, across the street from the Ortega Oaks (Candy) Store. From Orange County, take highway 74 east for 21 miles. The parking lot is on the left. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 day/$30 year) required for parking. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Division
- Distance: 9.6 miles (to waterfall site)
- Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
- Suggested time: 5 hours
- Best season: December – May
- USGS topo maps: Sitton Peak, Alberhill
- Recommended gear: hiking poles
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Difficulty rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
- Rating: 7
Named for former ranger Kenneth Munhall’s horse, the Chiquito Trail (not to be confused with nearby Chiquito Basin) runs for six and a half miles in the Santa Ana Mountains, connecting the San Juan Trail and the San Juan Loop Trail. The route described here shares the first mile with the San Juan Loop trail and then branches off, with the 15-foot seasonal Chiquito Falls as its destination. Although the waterfall usually only flows after heavy rains, the Chiquito Trail’s scenic variety makes it an enjoyable hike.
This route describes the more popular approach, from the San Juan Loop trail head. The waterfall can also be reached from the north or, with a shuttle, the entire trail can be done as a 9-mile one way hike.
Begin by following the San Juan Loop Trail in either direction from the parking lot. In 1.1 miles, at the approximate half way point at the bottom of the canyon, look for the unsigned Chiquito Trail branching off.
Follow the Chiquito Trail across the canyon bottom and head northwest for a mile. You cross an unnamed tributary and then get to the bulk of the climbing. The trail ascends about 800 feet in just under two miles, most of it fairly easy but there are a few rocky stretches that may be a little tricky.
As you climb, you alternate between pleasant woodlands shaded by oaks, and open stretches where you get nice, panoramic views of San Juan Canyon and the highway far below. A little less than four miles from the start, the trail levels out. This can be a good turn-around point, with great view to enjoy. For those who want to continue to the waterfall or all the way up to the junction with the Viejo Tie Trail, the next mile is downhill. Soon you can see Lion Canyon below to the left, and if the falls are flowing, they will become visible. A short spur takes you to the top of the 15-foot rock wall where Chiquito Falls happens after heavy rains. Even if the falls are dry, this is a nice spot to sit and relax for a while before turning around. Past here, the Chiquito Trail continues for almost 2 miles miles before reaching the Viejo Tie Trail and the San Juan Trail beyond.
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. 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.