- The main visitor access route is the Ortega Highway (State Route 74), which connects Lake Elsinore (on I-15) to San Juan Capistrano on the coast. This scenic route climbs steeply above Lake Elsinore (watch for hang-gliders) and then follows San Juan Canyon through the Forest. Along this route are campground and picnic areas in woodlands of coast live oak and sycamores. The Main Divide Road is a dirt road that runs north and south along the mountain crest; always check for road conditions or closures before planning to use this road.
Most of the activity in this area is hiking, biking, and horseback riding. All trails are open to mountain bikes except for nature trails and wilderness trails. A popular and challenging mountain bike trail is the 11-mile San Juan Trail. The upper trailhead is at Blue Jay Campground. Equestrians like the San Mateo Canyon Trail, which starts at the Tenaja Falls Trailhead; or the Tenaja Trail, which starts at the Tenaja Trailhead.
Two favorite walks for families are in this area. The El Cariso Nature Trail is a 1.5-mile loop that begins at the El Cariso Fire Station. The San Juan Loop begins off the Ortego Highway across from the Country Cottage Candy Store. (The lower trailhead is unsigned and is located in the Upper San Juan Campground.) The trail winds along San Juan Creek, through the chaparral but also through wooded areas as well. If you want to make a little longer walk, you can take the Chiquito Trail, which joins it, but you will have to retrace your steps.
On the other side of the mountains is the Holy Jim Trail, named after an early settler. Access is via Trabuco Canyon Roach, which can be reached via Santiago Canyon Road or El Toro Road out of Laguna Hills. The trail follows Holy Jim Creek and at 1.25 miles reaches the Falls. A 5.0-mile hiking trail to the Main Divide Road branches off just below the Falls. A trail guide describes the history of the area and can be obtained at the Ranger Station. Mountain bikers also use this trail.
The San Mateo Canyon Wilderness makes up the southwest corner of the Ranger District. Mountains covered with chaparral and coastal sage dominate the landscape. Many deep drainages hide a lush growth of vegetation, with oak woodlands thick in the lower elevations. Established in 1984, this 39,540-acre wilderness has over 60 miles of hiking trails. There are four trailheads: Bear Canyon, Morgan, Tenaja and Tenaja Falls. A permit is not required for day use in the wilderness but a free permit is required for overnight camping.
The only off-highway riding in the Trabuco Ranger District is at the Wildomar OHV Area, a 360-acre site located east of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.
Horseback riding, hiking, and backpacking are enjoyed on this wilderness area.
The Trabuco Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest is located just south of Corona and along the west side of Interstate 15.
Ask a local about San Mateo Canyon WildernessLocals have answered 55 questions about Los Angeles.
Ask Los Angeles Locals about San Mateo Canyon Wilderness
Outside the City
- User Rating