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Hike Coal Canyon Trail

Hike Coal Canyon Trail

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions
  • Parking For the Coal Canyon Trail
  • What to Expect on the Hike
Total Distance10 miles (16.1 km)
Hike Time4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,840 feet (561m)
Highest Elevation2,218 feet (676m)
Fees & PermitsNone
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve
Park Phone858-467-4201

Don’t let the start of the Coal Canyon Trail, which is next to the 91 freeway, fool you. After a short stretch next to the freeway on the Santa Ana River Trail, you’ll hop into a wildlife corridor and up into the northwest Santa Ana Mountains. Along the way, you’ll have views of Angeles National Forest, San Gorgonio, and at the top, Orange Counties’ “Mini-Moab.” It’s a bit of an under-hiked gem, so get out and enjoy it.

Where is the Coal Canyon Trail?

There is a large and free parking lot at the Santa Ana River Trail. The trail and parking area is mainly used by bikers, and can fill up early. I’ve shown up at dawn and the parking lot has been empty though. Use this trailhead address:
4995 Green River Rd #4915, Corona, CA 92880

There are no bathrooms or water fills at the trailhead, but gas stations and fast-food restaurants just up the road.

Coal Canyon Trail Directions 2
The parking lot is big, but can fill up early with people using the bike trail.

Gear for the Hike

This is a 10 mile hike so I recommend wearing proper hiking gear. The trail is entirely exposed; bring sun protection (or do it at dawn or in the winter). There’s no water, bring 2L for the trip.

Wildcat Small

My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move.  It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Osprey=talon

Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33  (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles.  I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
Latest Women’s Prices: REI | Amazon
Latest Men’s Prices: REI | Amazon

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2020.

My October 2020 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Coal Canyon Trail Maps

Just a note on the trails. While beautiful, they’re not pristine single-track through a forest. You’ll have a short stretch in the beginning on a paved bike trail, and then take a sandy fire road to the top. Don’t let that deter you, the hike is great.

Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable  Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.

Trail Marker
When you’re on Coal Canyon Trail you’ll see some mileage markers like this. Coal Canyon Trail is also known as North Main Divide Trail (officially once it enters Cleveland National Forest) and goes all the way to Saddleback Mountain.

Hike Brief

Cupressus Forbesii
Keep your eyes open for trees that look like this, which is a Tecate cypress. Coal Canyon is the northern limit of their small habitat (which extends south to the Tijuana area). The Tecate cypress is the only plant that the rare Thorne’s Hairstreak butterfly will lay its eggs on.

Coal Canyon Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Coal Canyon Trail Directions 3
Start the hike at the bottom of the parking area by heading onto the Santa Ana River Trail bike path. Don’t take the road or first tunnels under the 91.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 4
Go straight down the Santa Ana River Trail, sandwiched between the 91 freeway and the Santa Ana River.  The traffic can be slightly annoying, but at least you’re walking.  And if you walked straight down this path, eventually you’ll reach Huntingdon Beach and the Pacific Ocean. Today we’re just doing about a mile before we head into the hills.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 5
Keep heading straight down the bike path.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 6
Keep your eyes open in the Santa Ana River, which is full of wildlife.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 7
When the trail splits, head up to the left on the bike path.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 8
After a little over a mile you’ll reach the wildlife corridor on your left. On the right is an interpretive display.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 9
Head under the 91, through the wildlife corridor.

This may look like just a creepy freeway underpass, but it actually has some significance. This was originally the Coal Canyon exit on the 91. In the 1990s a study showed that the 91 was blocking wildlife access from the Santa Ana Mountains to the foothills in the north. Animals were being killed trying to cross the freeway. So the California Department of Parks and Recreation bought Coal Canyon and the underpass to create a wildlife corridor between the two areas. It was the first time in California history that parkland was purchased for its connectivity value, and the first time that Caltrans decommissioned a freeway underpass for wildlife.

Coal Canyon Trail Directions 10
Once through the underpass, stay straight. The fenced off roads on the side used to be the old ramps for the Coal Canyon exit.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 11
There’s an overgrown sign letting you know that you’re entering Chino Hills State park.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 12
There’s also a cool metal trail post that you occasionally see within Cleveland National Forest.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 13
Head through the gate and keep to the right on the paved path.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 14
The pavement ends and turns to dirt.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 15
Keep right through the wash. There’s another trail that goes into Coal Canyon to the left. After heavy rains this section get messy.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 16
After the wash the climb starts, and a trail post lets you know that you’re on the Coal Canyon Trail.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 17
As you start to climb you can see San Gorgonio to the east.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 18
The trail is steep in some sections, but overall well graded. If you’re in shape, you can cruise up this climb in a good rhythm. When it’s really hot outside, the climb can be brutal.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 19
The trail feels a million miles away from the 91 freeway as you climb up above Coal Canyon, which will be down to your left.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 20
After a bit of climbing, the high peaks of Angeles National Forest come into view.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 21
When you get to the ridge, stay on the main trail.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 22
When you come around the ridge you’ll have views west into Gypsum Canyon and the 261 Toll Road. It’s also a nice level section about roughly halfway to the top.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 23
When you get to the Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve gate, go through the gate and make the hard right.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 24
There’s nice views here back to Coal Canyon, Chino Hills, and Angeles NF.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 25
The land gets a little more wild within the Reserve.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 26
And soon you reach the end of the hike at the saddle. Head right at the intersection.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 28
Keep going straight to the rock pile.
Coal Canyon Trail Directions 29
From here you can see the slick rock formations locally known as “mini-Moab.” You can spot these formations from the 261 Toll Road and 91 Freeway.

Soak in the panoramic views and just head back the way you came to finish the hike. If you decide to climb down and explore the mini-Moab rocks, please be careful. The rocks are fragile and crumble very easily.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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