Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

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Sunset over Old Saddleback from the Big C
Sunset and Old Saddleback from the Big “C”
San Gabriel Mountains from the Big "C"
San Gabriel Mountains from the Big “C”

Big “C” Trail (Box Springs Mountain Park)

  • Location: Northeast Riverside at the end of Big Springs Road, by Islander Park.  From San Bernardino, Los Angeles or Orange County, take the 60/I-215 freeway  to the 3rd St/Blaine St. exit.  Turn left and follow 3rd, which immediately becomes Blaine, a mile to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.8 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn left and drive 0.4 miles to the end of Big Springs Road and park where available on the south (right) side of the street.  Note the parking restrictions.  From the east, take the 60/I-215 freeway to Watkins Drive.  Turn right and go 0.7 miles to Mt. Vernon.  Bear right and go 0.6 miles to Big Springs Road.  Turn right and drive 0.2 miles to the end of the road.
  • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Riverside East
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Map My Hike report here; unflinching account of the vandalism on the trail here
  • Rating: 5

You already know how to reach the big “M” on the south slope of Box Springs Mountain, so in this post, we’ll look at the short–but very steep–hike to the big “C” on the mountain’s west side.  Sadly, there’s a lot of graffiti and trash, but on clear days hike provides one of the Inland Empire’s best 180-degree views.

0:00 - Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Trail head at the end of Big Springs Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike almost came in at PG-13 due to its unrelenting steepness, often loose and difficult terrain and tricky route-finding, but anyone who’s reasonably active and allows themselves enough time shouldn’t have a problem.  Hiking poles will be a huge help.  There is an actual Google Maps-recognized Big C trail, although many other routes have been blazed across the mountain’s western slope.  Your exact route up and down may vary, but the trail’s popularity makes it hard to get too lost; when in doubt you shouldn’t have a problem finding other hikers to follow. With a western exposure, the hike can be done even on hot days with an early enough start and it’s also an excellent place to watch the sunset, although make sure you allow enough daylight to safely negotiate the steep slope.

0:03 - Look both ways (times are approximate)
0:03 – Look both ways (times are approximate)

Start just before the end of Big Springs Road by bearing left on a trail leading up to the railroad tracks. After crossing them you begin your ascent. Typically, you will choose between steep, eroded wash-like breaks and slightly less steep single-track. The first occurs on the east side of the railroad tracks. After the single-track reunites with the steeper route, the ascent continues, heading generally southeast. You can take advantage of a strip of grass running up the middle of the path which may help give you traction.

0:06 - Following the trail on the other side of the tracks
0:06 – Following the trail on the other side of the tracks

At about 0.3 miles, you reach another split where the trails briefly separate before rejoining. The left route is slightly less steep. You soon reach a ridge (about 0.5 miles) where the trail levels out briefly. Here you may be encouraged by a glimpse of the top half of the “C” off to your left.

0:15 - Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)
0:15 – Junction where you can choose between steep (left) and steeper (right)

At another split, you can choose between a steep but not too difficult climb up some rocks (left) or a single-track branching off to the right. The two trails meet just below the “C”. Make your final scramble up to the marker, where despite huge amounts of graffiti–some rather graphic in nature–you can enjoy an excellent view of the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Gabriels, and the Inland Valley. You get a nearly aerial perspective on the immediate neighborhood, some thousand feet below.

0:30 - Junction below the C (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)
0:30 – Junction below the “C” (note the steep break on the left and the trail branching to the right)

If you still have feeling in your legs, you can continue past the “C” to connect with other trails in Box Springs Mountain Park. It’s even possible to make it to the “M”, which is about three miles farther and 900 feet higher.

The “C” honors nearby University of California Riverside. Several UC campuses feature giant “C” markers. This “C” is the highest of all of them, at about 2,100 feet. It was completed in 1957 and at the time was the largest (132 feet tall by 70 feet wide) poured concrete block letter of its kind in the world.

0:40 - Respect the C
0:40 – Be a man: Respect the “C”

Text and photography copyright 2014 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.


  1. Hiked it for my 21st birthday this weekend. I loved it! Definitely a PG-13 hike. It’s hard, steep, and confusing going up and even worse going down. My 13 year old sister and my 25 year old sister both slipped and cut themselves pretty bad.

    1. Sorry to hear that, hope your sisters are OK. Glad you enjoyed the hike though. Happy belated birthday.

  2. So I decided to do a random hike today and this was my choice. However, As of now you CANNOT enter the trail from Big Springs due to a fence that now lines the entire metrolink track. There’s a small tunnel for water to creep through but it’s hidden behind a chain link fence & while people have used it to get to the big c trail I didn’t feel safe doing so. My route was from Blaine St. Exit the freeway at Blaine St & follow it up to where it crosses at Belvedere road. You will drive up to a sign for Box Springs Reserve & a sign for wildlife etc. On your left will be a small dirt lot tucked behind some houses. Park there (don’t block the driveways) & walk back to Blaine, make a left and take a short walk down the gravel road. As soon as you come to the sign that reads “Private Keep Out” & see the house on your right that has a sign up stating it has surveillance cameras make another right where you’ll be faced with a red metal gate next to a tree. There is a trailhead sitting beside it. Follow that trailhead, either head left toward the mountain (harder route) , you’ll come across a humongous tree that’s toppled over & the top of it kind of blocks the continuation of that path. The easier way to not get lost is to walk a short distance alongside the track but be mindful of the trespassing signs & be mindful of trains if you go on a weekday. I don’t think Metrolink runs on weekends as I didn’t see any trains and I was there for 2 & a half hours. Once you pass the Creek bed you’ll see another route with two humming bird feeders placed at the start, or you can go a few more feet and take that trail up. Either one will get you up to the C.

    There’s definitely a lot of overgrowth right now and the trail is pretty empty. I was the only one there the entire time this morning, but I’m guessing that’s because it’s hard to figure out how to enter now that Big Springs isn’t an option. Some bits of advice: Wear shoes with amazing traction, bring plenty of water & a snack, bring a hiking stick or something to help you climb, and watch for wildlife (i kept seeing fresh scat along the trail, but not sure what animal lol), snakes (thankfully didn’t see any), bobcats, mountain lions, etc. Oh & bring a hat & sunscreen for when the sun comes out and blazes down on you if you go in the morning. PS- go easy on your knees & ankles after getting down, mine are so so sore after catching myself from falling several times, but damn if that wasn’t a good workout with an amazing view!

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