San Juan Trail, Cleveland National Forest


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Recently, a friend of mine made me realize that I’ve neglected local hikes as I’ve been spoiled by the hikes on my travels. Maybe, subconsciously I thought that the local hikes could not compare to what I’ve experienced around the world. That is not true. There are some beautiful local hikes in Southern California. I recently joined MeetUp and went on my first hike with the OC Hiking Club to prove to myself there are some extraudinary hikes in the area.

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Early Sunday, November 15th, I drove approximately one hour to the Upper San Juan Trail, not to be confused with the San Juan Loop. The trail is located in the Cleveland National Forest in the Santa Ana Mountains which seperates Orange County and Riverside County. The forest mostly consist of chapparal but also has pockets of pine trees. It’s a great getaway for local residence who want to make the short drive from the urban sprawl and dry desert consistant of Southern California. The trail can be reached via the Ortega highway, follow the signs to the Blue Jay Campground. The trailhead is right in front of the campground entrance. Beginning hikers can travers this route with minimal issues. There is a change in elevation during the hike but it is a gradual one with only a short portion where you have to decrease your pace considerably. The total distance is about 5 miles and it took our group approximately 2 hours to finish with multiple breaks and photo stops. The more advance hikers can continue down the trail to the lower portion of San Juan. 

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Beginners should stay on the upper loop of the trail. And be aware of mountain bikers as these trails are popular with the biking enthusiest, also. The trail is not well marked and cell phone service is non-existent so be prepared before you go. A map of the trail can be found at the trailhead.



The views on this trail are spectacular and one you would not associate with the dry desert terrain Southern California is known for. This trail even has a wooded section consisting of oak trees. I just hope my photos have adequately captured the experience we had.

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A small mountain lion, about 2 1/2 feet long


I also channeled my inner “Ansel Adams” and provided photos in monochrome to give my experience a more vintage look.


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