Hike Coal Canyon Trail
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||10 miles (16.1 km)|
|Hike Time||4 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,840 feet (561m)|
|Highest Elevation||2,218 feet (676m)|
|Fees & Permits||None|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve|
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 is currently construction at the trailhead and parking is being diverted to 4740 Green River Rd, a 10 minute walk from the trailhead. If you do the hike and the situation changes, please contact me and I’ll update the guide. Thanks!
There are no bathrooms or water fills at the trailhead, but gas stations and fast-food restaurants just up the road.
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.
Garmin inReach Mini
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.
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My Review & Guide
How is this Different than a GPS?
Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.
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Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2022.
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 keep the website ad and promotion free. 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.
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
- The Coal Canyon area first gained notoriety in the 1880s when oil was discovered here. The oil fizzled out and then there were some small mines which you can still see marked on topographic maps. Then the land just sat there, but the oil company ownership meant that development never happened.
- From the 1980s to the 2000s the land became parkland and protected under strong bi-partisan support (remember those days?). Today the Coal Canyon Trail starts in Chino Hills State Park (no parking pass needed) and then heads into Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve.
- Some of this hike burned in the 2017 Canyon 2 fire, and a large portion of it was destroyed in the 2002 Green Fire.
- I never see many (if any) hikers on this trail, but there are mountain bikers. Even then, it’s not busy, but make sure you keep your eyes open for them as you hike.
- The area is a haven for wildlife. Expect to see raptors and maybe a rabbit or two. I’ve spotted bobcats, mule deer, and snakes here over the years. The wide sand trails are great places to spot tracks.
Coal Canyon Trail Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
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.
If you see “Area Closed” signs, they are referring to the side trails away from the rock pile. You ARE allowed to hike to the rock pile. The signs are place in front of it to discourage exploring. Thanks to reader Carmelita for the update!
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.
This guide last updated on May 20, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
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