Zanja Peak (West Approach)

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Looking west from Zanja Peak
Looking west from Zanja Peak
Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail
Sunlight on a lone oak on the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail

Zanja Peak (West Approach)

  • Location: Crafton Hills near Yucaipa.  From San Bernardino, take I-10 to Yucaipa Blvd.  Turn left and go 1.5 miles to Sand Canyon Road.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Chapman Heights Road.    Go 0.3 miles to 13th St. and park where available.   From Palm Springs, take I-10 to Oak Glen/Live Oak Canyon Road.  Turn right and make a quick left on 14th St.  Go 1.1 miles, cross Yucaipa Blvd. and continue onto Sand Canyon Road.  Go 0.2 miles and turn right on Chapman Heights Road.  Go 0.3 miles and park where available on 13th St.
  • Agency:  Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy
  • Distance:  8.4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,500 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, Elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: October – April
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • USGS topo map: Yucaipa
  • More information: Here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)
0:00 – Start of the hike on 13th St. and Chapman Heights Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Zanja Peak, the highest point in the Crafton Hills at 3,543 feet, can be reached by several routes.  The short but steep approach from Oak Glen Road has already been written up on this site, so on this post we’ll look at the longer route from the west, using the Thunderbird Trail and Hilltop Trail. Except for a very steep push to the summit, most of the hike is at a pleasantly moderate grade.

0:08 - Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail
0:08 – Heading into a canyon on the Thunderbird Trail

From the corner of 13th St. and Chapman Heights, head west briefly and pick up the Thunderbird Trail. You cross a small wooden footbridge and begin your ascent, weaving in and out of two shallow canyons. After 1.2 miles of moderate ascent, you reach a four-way junction. Turn right and follow the trail up a ridge. This is not the “official” Crafton Hills Ridge Trail but it’s a more interesting and challenging route. (You can continue straight along the Thunderbird Trail for a short distance to meet the Crafton Hills Ridge Trail, a fire road.)

0:31-  View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)
0:31- View from the ridge near the top of the Thunderbird Trail (turn right to continue up the ridge)

From the top of the ridge, a steep descent brings you to the fire road. Though the road makes a few switchbacks, you can save a few minutes by following a use trail that continues the steep descent into the valley, passing by a lone oak ideally situated for a resting spot.

0:35 - View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road
0:35 – View from the top of the ridge, descending to join the fire road

After rejoining the fire road, you continue to head east, enjoying good views of Redlands, Mentone and the San Bernardino Mountains on the left and the Yucaipa area on the right. You may get a glimpse of Old Sadddleback behind Box Springs Mountain.

At 3.4 miles, a bench makes another scenic rest spot; you get a good aerial view of Mill Creek and might see cars passing by on Highway 38, far below. At 4 miles, keep an eye out for a break heading sharply uphill. Bear right and climb 0.2 miles, gaining about 250 feet, to the summit.

1:20 - View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head
1:20 – View of Mill Creek and Highway 38, about 3.4 miles from the trail head

From here you get a panoramic view of San Bernardino and San Gorgonio; San Jacinto; the Palomars; the San Gabriels and more, pending of course, good visibility. You can retrace your steps or if you’ve set up a shuttle, you can descend to one of several other trail heads.

1:40 - Bear right on the spur to the summit
1:40 – Bear right on the spur to the summit

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.

1:50 - Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)
1:50 – Welcome to Zanja Peak (looking south)

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