Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Dogs allowed Orange County - Santa Ana Mountains & Foothills Rating: 4-6 Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Morgan Trail (Upper Half)


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Oak woodland on the Morgan Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Oak woodland on the Morgan Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Horned lizard on the Morgan Trail
Horned lizard on the Morgan Trail

Morgan Trail (Upper Half)

  • Location: Santa Ana Mountains in eastern Orange County.  From I-5 in San Jaun Capistrano, take highway 74 northeast for 23 miles.  Just past the ranger station, turn right (south) on South Main Divide Road.  Drive 2.8 miles and park at a dirt turnout on the right side of the road.  From Lake Elsinore, drive 5.1 miles southwest on Highway 74 and turn left on South Main Divide Road (ranger station=too far).  Go 2.8 miles and park in the dirt lot on the right side of the road.   A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) are required.  Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: “Alberhill”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Trip report here (full trail hike); Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

The Morgan Trail is a 4.3-mile route in the Cleveland National Forest.  This post explores the scenic upper half of the trail, from South Main Divide Road to the intersection with the Tenaja Falls Trail.  It makes a nice, moderate workout, exploring the northern edge of the secluded San Mateo Wilderness.  It can also be done as a 5-mile point-to-point hike ending at the Candy Store on Ortega Highway, or as an ambitious 10-mile round trip with 1,500 feet of elevation gain.

0:00 - Morgan trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)
0:00 – Morgan trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized pictures)

From the parking area, head south on the Morgan Trail. At 0.2 miles, you enter a pleasant meadow where you can sign a trail register. The trail continues through an oak woodland, cutting across a tributary of Morrell Canyon.

0:06 - Entering the wilderness (times are approximate)
0:06 – Entering the wilderness (times are approximate)

At about a mile, you leave the woods, cross the bottom of the stream and continue your descent along the east side of the canyon, with nice views of the Santa Ana Mountains and, if visibility is good, the ocean. You can also see Ortega Highway snaking along to the west.

0:40 - Mountain view
0:40 – Mountain view

At 2.2 miles, you reach a junction at a small clearing, the turnaround point for this hike. To the south, the Morgan Trail continues another two miles to the Bear Canyon Trail, from which it is another mile to the Candy Store. You can also extend your hike by heading southeast on the Tenaja Falls Trail. It leads 5.3 miles to Tenaja Falls and another 0.7 miles to the Tenaja Falls Trail Head, another point-to-point route if you can set up a shuttle.

0:55 - Junction with the Tenaja Falls Trail, turnaround point for this trip
0:55 – Junction with the Tenaja Falls Trail, turnaround point for this trip

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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