Shelton/Plunge Creek Loop (Highland)
From a nondescript start in a residential neighborhood, this hike turns out to be rather adventurous, offering panoramic city and mountain views and steep ascents and descents. It makes use of the City of Highland’s Shelton Trail and the San Bernardino National Forest’s route 1n21, also known as the Plunge Creek Truck Trail. The lower portion of the latter is also part of Highland’s new Natural Parkland Trail system.
From the parking area near the Natural Parkland trail head, walk west on Base Line Road. Hiking the loop clockwise, as described here, cuts out most of the steepest ascents from the route, although this trip will be challenging in either direction. With its numerous small but steep ascents on the return, the descent almost seems longer than the climb. After one quarter of a mile, turn right on the signed Shelton Trail and follow it as it ascends past the backs of houses. Soon the trail leaves the confines of the residential area and snakes along the west side of a ridge, offering wide-ranging views of the San Gabriels and Harrison Mountain to the north.
At 1.4 miles, you reach the end of residential Van Leuven Lane and continue north on a paved service road. On Google Maps, this is shown as an extension of Van Leuven. The road climbs steeply, passing a water tank and then becoming a dirt single-track (1.7 miles from the start). The ascent continues as the single-track hugs the southeastern side of a deep canyon. By now, though you are only a short distance from suburbia, the sights and sounds of civilization are minimal.
At 2.5 miles, just as the trail enters a meadow with views of San Bernardino Peak to the east, look for an obscure, unsigned trail and make a hard right, heading southeast. This is the Plunge Creek Truck Trail, which also continues north through the meadow, eventually reaching Highway 330. To complete the loop, head southeast on the Plunge Creek Truck Trail, which makes a steep, rutted ascent to a ridge. Follow the ridge south, taking in views in all directions: to the east are San Bernardino Peak (obscuring San Gorgonio Mountain) and San Jacinto; to the south are the Crafton Hills and the more distant Palomar Mountains; to the southwest are the Santa Anas and west are the San Gabriels.
The roller coaster-like ridgeline is loose and steep in some places but never difficult to follow; a few side trails branch off but the main route is clear, especially if you are using a Google Maps-based tracking device. At 3.4 miles, the trail makes an abrupt left turn and heads northeast, dropping to a saddle. You make a last final, steep ascent, 150 feet in about one sixth of a mile, gaining another ridge before turning right and continuing south.
At 4.7 miles, you reach a T-junction. You can further explore the Natural Parkland Trails by heading left, but to complete the loop, make a hard right. Interpretive plaques describe the natural and human history of the Highland area. You can see some of this history in action as you head west on a bridle path paralleling Base Line Road. One of the major Inland Empire arteries, modern-day Base Line Road follows coordinates plotted out in 1852 from nearby San Bernardino Peak. From this vantage point at the eastern end and highest point of Base Line, the road seems to stretch indefinitely.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.