San Mateo Canyon Wilderness Hikes

A protected gem nestled in the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness offers unique trails for those who want to go deeper. The San Mateo Wilderness was created in 1984, mainly due to the efforts of local hikers, and led by Sierra Club member Kenneth S. Croker. His advocacy for the protection and development of trails here has left a legacy for us to enjoy today.

Name Distance Level Location Climb Dogs
Sitton Peak Hike9.6ModerateTrabuco Canyon2130Y
Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfall Hike2.8Moderate Lake Elsinore450Y
Hike San Mateo Peak (Cleveland National Forest)4.6ModerateLake Elsinore1100Y
Morgan Trail Hike (Cleveland National Forest)10.5ModerateLake Elsinore1500Y
Tenaja Falls Trail Guide7.5ModerateMurrieta1000Y

All Guides

Sitton Peak Hike

Sitton Peak Hike

Although not one of the high peaks of Cleveland National Forest, Sitton Peak is one of the more popular ones to bag. The hike to Sitton Peak is challenging but not too harsh, and at the top, you are treated to panoramic views from Catalina to the SoCal high peaks. You’ll also get to explore the San Mateo Wilderness, a protected area of unique and lush chaparral, oak woodlands, and coastal sage.

Trabuco Canyon, CA - 9.6 miles, Moderate

Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfall Hike

Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfall Hike

Tucked away in a remote corner of Cleveland National Forest, the waterfalls of Upper Hot Spring Canyon are truly wild and beautiful. Luckily it’s a relatively easy hike to the first 15-foot waterfall, then a bit harder to the second, taller 25-foot waterfall, which I cover in this guide. After that point, this hiking guide ends because Lower Hot Spring Canyon lacks a trail and is known as one of the most challenging canyoneering routes in SoCal. But this more leisurely hike in the upper canyon will give you a taste of the beauty without having to mount a major expedition.

Lake Elsinore, CA - 2.8 miles, Moderate

Hike San Mateo Peak (Cleveland National Forest)

Hike San Mateo Peak (Cleveland National Forest)

San Mateo Peak, a beautiful and fun hike with a fantastic summit and sweeping views, is not officially there. The trail is not on the Forest Service maps, and you won’t find “San Mateo Peak” anywhere on an official topographic map. But the trail and peak are there all right, and in this guide, I’ll show you how to hike to the top and enjoy this fun peak in Cleveland National Forest.

Lake Elsinore, CA - 4.6 miles, Moderate

Morgan Trail Hike (Cleveland National Forest)

Morgan Trail Hike (Cleveland National Forest)

Hiking the Morgan Trail takes you on a serene journey through the rugged San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, off the beaten path and away from the hustle and bustle of other nearby and popular trails. You’ll hike through the chaparral with high peaks of the Santa Anas flanking you until you reach scenic and shaded Morrell Canyon, full of willows, sycamore, and oaks. And at the end of the Morgan Trail, you’ll be treated to epic views of Lake Elsinore and the high peaks of Southern California.

Lake Elsinore, CA - 10.5 miles, Moderate

Tenaja Falls Trail Guide

Tenaja Falls Trail Guide

Nestled deep in the remote San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, the Tenaja Falls Trail takes you to majestic Tenaja Falls, a cascading waterfall that plunges 150 into the scenic canyon. In this guide I’ll show you two ways to get to the falls. You can either do the short 1.5 mile (total) “roadside attraction” route, or you can take the 7.5 mile scenic and relatively easy route through Fisherman’s Camp and along San Mateo Creek. Which ever way you go, you’re in for a treat, because the scenery is incredible and the vibe is off the beaten path.

Murrieta, CA - 7.5 miles, Moderate