Hiking Motivation! Join the 52 Hike Challenge!

San Mateo Peak Cleveland National Forest Featured
play video
Hikes In and Around Orange County

Hike San Mateo Peak (Cleveland National Forest)

  • 4.6 miles - Moderate Effort
  • Or: 15 Miles With Morgan Trail
  • 2 Hours (Total)
  • 1,100 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 3,594 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

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.

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

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.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated June 2024)

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

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

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

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.
San Mateo Peak Hike Directions 10
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.

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

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!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.