San Onofre Back Country Loop
- Location: San Clemente Dog Park, on the corner of Avenida La Pata and Calle Extremo, San Clemente. From I-5, take the Avenida Pico exit and head northeast for 1.7 miles. Turn right on Avenida La Pata and follow it 1.4 miles to its terminus at Calle Extremo, by the entrance to the dog park.
- Agency: San Onofre State Beach
- Distance: 4.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 550 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: October – June
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
- USGS topo map: San Onofre Bluffs
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 4
Like nearby Crystal Cove State Park, San Onofre State Beach is best known for its coastline and camping, but also features an extensive network of trails in the back country. The north end of the park lacks the scenic variety of Crystal Cove, but this loop, which starts from the dog park on the edge of San Clemente, offers a moderate workout with free access. It’s a good route to keep in mind if you feel like you’ve tapped out all of Orange County’s regional trails.
There are a bunch of trails in the north end of the park, and the navigation can be a little confusing, so keep an eye out for a few key landmarks. For orientation, remember that Camp Pendleton is to the east and Cristianitos Road marks the southern end of the area.
From the dog park, head east, crossing the San Diego County line. After passing an information board–displaying an impressive photo of a mountain lion–you reach a fire road (your return route.) Stay straight and begin descending on a single-track trail that zig-zags its way down into the canyon. At about 0.8 miles you cross a pair of footbridges, and come a junction. Stay right and continue your descent. Just after passing a sign post marked #7, you cross another footbridge. At sign post 8, turn right, continue following the canyon, crossing under a fallen willow and passing by a giant sycamore tree.
Heading south now, you climb up and down a small hill and then come to another footbridge – this one in disrepair, so you’ll have to jump over it or carefully step down into the ditch. You follow a barbed wire fence for a little ways, passing through a field where several false trails branch off (though the main route remains obvious.)
At 2.6 miles, just before you reach Cristianitos Road, turn right and head uphill. You climb a ridge, with nice views down into a canyon on the left. After crossing under some tall power lines, you enter a pleasantly quiet area, where you will join up with a fire road coming up from the south (3.6 miles). Bear right and continue making your way north, getting some nice views of the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains.
The trail makes one last ascent, following a ridge before dropping back down toward the dog park, completing the loop. If you have time, you can continue north along the fire road, which meets up with the city of San Clemente’s Prima Deshecha Trail.
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.