Hike San Mateo Peak Cleveland National Forest

Hike San Mateo Peak (Cleveland National Forest)

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike San Mateo Peak (Cleveland National Forest)
  • Where to Park for San Mateo Peak
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations
Total Distance (?)4.6 miles (7.4 km)
Other Options 15 Miles With Morgan Trail
Hike Time2 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,100 feet (335m)
Highest Elevation3,594 feet (1095m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Cleveland National Forest
Park Phone951-736-1811

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.

Where is San Mateo Peak?

We’re going to start at the Morgan Trail parking area off of South Main Divide Road for this hike. Note that South Main Divide Road is paved and not a dirt road like North Main Divide Road. Use this trailhead address:
Morgan Trailhead, South Main Divide, Decker Canyon Rd, Lake Elsinore, CA 92530

San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 2
There’s a parking area on the side of the road.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 3
The parking area is marked as the Morgan Trailhead.

You do not need a permit to park here, and there are no facilities.

San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 4
When you park, (carefully) cross South Main Divide Road and take a look at Lake Elsinore, about 1800 feet below.

Gear For the Hike

This is a backcountry hike, but its short distance means that you can get away with fitness clothes here. I wear light hiking gear. In the summer it can get brutally hot, so bring at least 1L of water. There are a few sections of steep slopes where trekking poles will help.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI 
My Review & Guide
How is this Different than a GPS?

Lone Peak 5

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.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

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.

My January 2022 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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

San Mateo Peak Trail Maps

Overall the trail is easy to follow, but can get a little overgrown. The beginning is rolling and then you have about 900 feet of climbing. There are steep sections, but overall it’s nothing like a big mountain hike.

Click Here To View

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.

Elevation Profile

San Mateo Peak Elevation
The beginning is pretty flat, and then you head uphill. There are some short downhill dips on the climb.

3D Map

San Mateo Peak 3d Map
We’ll start on the Morgan Trail, and then cross the top of Morrell Canyon before turning south and heading up the ridge toward San Mateo Peak.

Alternate 15-Mile Hike

If you want a longer hike, you can easily combine this stretch of trail with the full length of the Morgan Trail for a distance of about 15 miles. Start at the Candy Store, hike up the Morgan Trail, and then pick these directions up at the wilderness sign-in box (see the directions below). You’re going to want to also read my guide to the Morgan Trail and follow the directions there (don’t use this trailhead).

Hike Brief

San Mateo Peak Historical Map
When surveyors mapped the area they thought the location nudist camp was more important than marking the summit known now San Mateo Peak.

Why all the mystery around this trail and peak? Will I see any nudists spilling out of the camp on this trail? So many questions…

I had to use my vacation time from work to testify. The Forest Service officially fought it tooth and nail. They did not want to see another wilderness area established by Congress because it causes them special headaches, from a management standpoint. But a lot of the lower-level Forest Service people said, ‘Go get ‘em. That’s a fantastic area. That ought to be a wilderness.’Ken Croker to the LA Times

San Mateo Peak Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 5
The trail starts behind the trail board.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 6
You’ll have a nice downhill stretch on the Morgan Trail to start.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 7
Keep your eyes open for a cut-back trail, just before the trail register. You’re going to want to take this.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 8
If you were to go straight past the last junction, you would see a trail register and the Morgan Trail continuing.

Although this trail skirts in and out of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, I do recommend signing the trail register here, which helps the Forest Service understand trail traffic and (hopefully?) get more funding for trails.

Hike San Mateo Peak Cleveland National Forest Direction A
The trail goes through a shaded area, and you’ll see a plastic friend on a post to the left.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 9
Don’t worry, the plastic lizard won’t bite.
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Continue along the trail, which passes Lion Spring (usually dry) and crosses over a small creek a few times.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 11
At the t-junction, make the hard right.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 12
You’ll see a trail sign for San Mateo Peak.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 13
And shortly after that is another junction, where you make another right.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 14
There’s another trail sign here for San Mateo Peak.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 15
Now you start climbing. Some sections are steep, but none are too long.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 16
When you break out of the trees into the chaparral, you’ll see San Mateo Peak off to your left.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 17
And on your right is a tattered flag on an unnamed peak. When I did this hike about 5 months earlier, the flag was new, now it’s shredded. Maybe it’ll be gone when you visit. You can bushwhack up there if you’d like, but there’s not much to see.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 18
To your right you’ll see Santiago Peak (with the antennas).
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 19
And to your left, Mount San Jacinto.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 20
Look for another trail marker on your left.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 21
Which also has another friendly reptile.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 22
There are some steep uphill sections.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 23
And some short dips.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 24
When you reach the first boulders, it’s a false summit. Keep hiking.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 25
And shortly after that you’ll see another group of boulders in the distance, which is San Mateo Peak.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 26
There’s a cool group of boulders at the peak, along with a flat rock, great for picnics, just before it.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 27
Check out the summit sign and register.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 28
And climb the small boulders to get to the “top top.”
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 31
To the north is Angeles National Forest.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 30
To the northeast is San Gorgonio.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 29
And to the east is San Jacinto.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 32
That’s it. From here just go back the way you came.

This guide last updated on December 30, 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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