Difficulty PG Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Dogs allowed Rating: 7-8 Riverside & San Bernardino Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Fisherman’s Camp Loop (San Mateo Canyon Wilderness)


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Fall colors in San Mateo Canyon
Fall colors in San Mateo Canyon
Sunlight through the oaks, San Mateo Canyon
Sunlight through the oaks, San Mateo Canyon

Fisherman’s Camp Loop (San Mateo Canyon Wilderness)

  • Location: Southeast Riverside County, Cleveland National Forest.  From I-15 in Murrieta, take the Clinton Keith Road exit and head southwest (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from the south).  Go a total of 6.8 miles, past the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.  On the way, the street name changes to Tenaja Road.  Take a right at a junction to stay on Tenaja Road (if you find yourself on Via Volcano or at the Vernal Pools trailhead, you’ve come too far).  Go 4.2 miles to Cleveland Forest Road and turn right.  Go a total of 3.7 miles on Cleveland Forest Road – which is one lane so exercise caution – and look for the Fisherman’s Camp Trailhead and a small dirt turnout on the left.  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: 5.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo map: “Sitton Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (out and back to Fisherman’s Camp); Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Beginning of the Fisherman's Camp Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Beginning of the Fisherman’s Camp Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable hike visits both the high and low country of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, providing panoramic mountain views and secluded stretches through thick woodlands.  You’re not likely to have much company here, except perhaps on busy holiday weekends.

0:20 - View of the mountains on the descent to Fisherman's Camp (times are approximate)
0:20 – View of the mountains on the descent to Fisherman’s Camp (times are approximate)

From the Fisherman’s Camp trailhead, you begin the hike by entering an attractive grove of oaks. The trail then exits the woods and follows an exposed ridge, providing good views into the canyon and of the mountains across the way. After staying more or less level for about 0.7 miles the trail begins a twisting descent into the canyon. During the fall, you get a nice aerial view of the sycamore foliage below.

0:45 - Heading north from Fisherman's Camp toward the Tenaja Falls Trailhead
0:45 – Heading north from Fisherman’s Camp toward the Tenaja Falls Trailhead

At 1.6 miles, you reach a junction. Continue a tenth of a mile to Fisherman’s Camp, an attractive spot shaded by huge oaks, where the Tenaja Trail intersects. After enjoying the quiet, retrace your steps and take the left fork, heading deeper into wooded San Mateo Canyon. You cross a rocky wash and climb out of the canyon. The trail soon drops back down to the stream bed and crosses another wash. You then reach a junction where you’ll stay left and climb out of the canyon again, soon reaching a junction with a fairly recently created trail that stays above the canyon floor, closely following the east wall. (The original trail, which branches off to the left, follows the creek, crossing it a few times.)

0:48 - Crossing the wash just north of Fisherman's Camp
0:48 – Crossing the wash just north of Fisherman’s Camp

The two trails merge in another grove of oaks, about 3.4 miles from the start. You continue to a T-junction with the Tenaja Falls Trail, where you will turn right and walk 0.1 miles back to the street. Turn right and follow the road 1.5 miles back to the Fisherman’s Camp Trailhead, completing the loop. As far as paved roads go, this one’s pretty enjoyable: traffic is usually very light (if any), and the road provides some nice vistas of the canyon.

1:00 - Bear left and climb out of the canyon
1:05 – Bear left and climb out of the canyon

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.

2:05 - Right turn on Cleveland Forest Road; follow it 1.5 miles back to your car
2:05 – Right turn on Cleveland Forest Road; follow it 1.5 miles back to your car

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