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 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.
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.
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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.
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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 January 2021.
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.
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
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.
- 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.
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.