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Hike Coal Canyon Trail
Hikes In Orange County

Hike Coal Canyon Trail

  • 10 miles - Moderate Effort
  • 4 Hours (Total)
  • 1,840 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 2,218 feet
  • No Dogs Allowed

what does this mean?

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.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions
  • Parking For the Coal Canyon Trail
  • What to Expect on the Hike

When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

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.

Gear 2022 8

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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

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Guides to Help You Navigate

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.

Elevation Profile

Coal Canyon Elevation
After an initial flat stretch, you're pretty much going uphill all the way to the end.

3D Map

Coal Canyon 3d Map
From the Santa Ana River, you head up into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.

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

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.
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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.
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Keep heading straight down the bike path.
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Keep your eyes open in the Santa Ana River, which is full of wildlife.
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When the trail splits, head up to the left on the bike path.
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After a little over a mile you'll reach the wildlife corridor on your left. On the right is an interpretive display.
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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.

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Once through the underpass, stay straight. The fenced off roads on the side used to be the old ramps for the Coal Canyon exit.
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There's an overgrown sign letting you know that you're entering Chino Hills State park.
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There's also a cool metal trail post that you occasionally see within Cleveland National Forest.
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Head through the gate and keep to the right on the paved path.
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The pavement ends and turns to dirt.
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Keep right through the wash. There's another trail that goes into Coal Canyon to the left. After heavy rains this section get messy.
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After the wash the climb starts, and a trail post lets you know that you're on the Coal Canyon Trail.
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As you start to climb you can see San Gorgonio to the east.
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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.
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After a bit of climbing, the high peaks of Angeles National Forest come into view.
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When you get to the ridge, stay on the main trail.
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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.
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When you get to the Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve gate, go through the gate and make the hard right.
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There's nice views here back to Coal Canyon, Chino Hills, and Angeles NF.
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The land gets a little more wild within the Reserve.
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And soon you reach the end of the hike at the saddle. Head right at the intersection.
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Keep going straight to the rock pile.

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!

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.

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).

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