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Hike The Chiquito Falls Trail

Hike the Chiquito Falls Trail

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions for the Chiquito Falls Trail
  • Where is the Chiquito Falls Trail?
  • Insider Hike Tips and Recommendations
Total Distance (?)9.6 miles (15.5 km)
Hike Time4-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)1,800 feet (549m)
Highest Elevation2,340 feet (713m)
Fees & PermitsParking Pass
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Cleveland National Forest
Park Phone951-736-1811

Nestled deep in Cleveland National Forest, the Chiquito Trail takes you away from the crowds visiting the popular San Juan Falls to a waterfall hidden in a secluded canyon up in hills, Chiquito Falls. To get there you have to hike up a moderate climb, but as with most climbs, you’re rewarded with great views. The hike to Chiquito Falls is great for the hiker who’s done the popular trails and now wants something a little different without the bigger crowds (like nearby Sitton Peak).

Spoiler alert: “chiquito” means small or tiny in Spanish, so don’t expect a Niagara Falls experience. Regardless, Chiquito Falls is a lovely spot.

How to Get to Chiquito Falls

The hike to Chiquito Falls starts at the big trail parking area off Rt-74 (Ortega Highway), which is also the parking area for Sitton Peak and the San Juan Loop Trail. Use this trailhead address:
34950 Ortega Hwy, Lake Elsinore, CA, 92530

You need to display a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here. I highly recommend investing in the National Parks Pass, which allows you free entry at all federal lands and attractions, of which this is one.

Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 3
The parking lot is big but does fill up as it’s used for a few different hikes.
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There’s a water pump in the parking lot.
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And primitive toilets are available.

Gear for the Hike

This is a proper backcountry hike and you should prepare accordingly.

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.

Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2021.

My May 2021 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.

Chiquito Falls Trail Maps

Overall, for such a remote trail, the Chiquito Trail is maintained and in good shape. The trail is also used by mountain bikers, and probably gets more traffic than you’d imagine.

Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 1
Some sections of the trail are very rocky, but there’s nothing this rocky for any extended distance.
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Although the trail is fairly remote, you’ll might see evidence of active trail work along the route.
Click Here To View Map

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.

Fenix 6 Pro

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). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

Elevation Profile

Hike The Chiquito Falls Trail Elevation
Here’s the one-way elevation profile to the falls. After dipping down on the San Juan Loop, you have a short flat section on the Chiquito Trail, and then it heads uphill. Toward the end it’s rolling. The ups and downs tend to sap my strength a little quicker than the straight uphill and downhill.

3d Map

Hike The Chiquito Falls Trail 3d Map
You dip down in the canyon to San Juan Creek from the parking area, then climb up and around the ridge into Lion Canyon and the falls. The green line is the Riverside and Orange County line.

Chiquito Falls Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

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Turn by Turn Directions

Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 5
Look for the San Juan Loop Trail board in the corner of the parking lot and start the hike from there.
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Right away you’re treated to a nice single-track trail. The no dog poop sign is because of the crowds of non-hikers that often do the short hike to San Juan Falls.
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A gentle climb brings you out of the brush and you get nice views up Decker Canyon.
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Soon you’ll approach San Juan (or Ortega) Falls. Avoid the side trail down to the falls unless you want to explore. If it’s a busy time, expect lots of crowds up to this point.
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After the side trail there’s a nice viewing area for the falls, which are below.
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When there’s water around, these falls flow nicely. When not, you see something like this.
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Keep hiking on the San Juan Loop. After a short while you’ll get a nice downhill as you head down towards San Juan Creek.
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You’ll see nice markers like this one on the San Juan Loop Trail, which is popular with non-hikers. Here the trail reaches the creek. Keep to the left.
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When the trail meets San Juan Creek, keep to the left. When there’s water flowing, this move is obvious. When the creek is dry, it can be mistaken for a trail.
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When you get to this junction for the Chiquito Trail, make the right.

Chiquito Falls is named after Kenneth Munhall’s horse. Munhall was a ranger here in the early days of the forest, and used to man the fire tower on Santiago Peak in the 1920s. Yup, there used to be a fire tower on Santiago Peak.

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Here’s the sign at that last junction.
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Right away you’ll have to pop over San Juan Creek. There’s no water in it on this day, but it does flow at other times.
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There’s some rolling and flat terrain as you hike along a tributary of the creek.
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The trail crosses the tributary to the left. There can be water flowing here too.
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From here on out, you’ll be mostly climbing. Although there are exposed sections that get very hot, there are stretches of shade.
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As you climb you’ll start to get some nice views into the canyon you were just in and towards the hills in Cleveland NF.
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There are some shady spots like this. There’s even moss growing on the rock!
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As you hike uphill, don’t forget to turn around and take in the views. On a crisp, clear day you can even see to the western peaks of the San Bernardino National Forest. I think this is San Bernardino Peak and Anderson Peak in the distance, covered in snow.
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And ahead of you Sitton Peak comes into view.
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There are some really rocky sections on this section, but no technical scrambling.
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Keep your eyes open for this sweet viewpoint as you climb.
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When you get up to around 2600 feet the trail levels off with intermittent uphills and wraps around the hillside toward Lion Canyon.
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Once you wind around the hill and head up Lion Canyon, keep your eyes open for Santiago Peak peaking out above the ridge.
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There’s a sweet dispersed camping area here on the left. I haven’t camped there (yet…).
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Keep your eyes open down to the left in the canyon as you hike. The trail starts to head downhill and you’ll catch a glimpse of the falls.
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At the bottom of the downhill, make this hard left. If you go right and keep going, it’ll be a long, long day for you.
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Here you are, the tiny Chiquito Falls! Hopefully when you visit there will be some water. Even without water, it’s still a nice place to visit.

Here’s what the falls look like when they’re flowing.

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You can take the use trail down to the bottom of the falls to check it all out.
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Snow! Two days before I did this hike it had snowed in Cleveland NF, but I didn’t realize it was down at this low elevation.

When you’re done at the falls, just go back the way you came. I generally take the right when I get back to the San Juan Loop Trail and hike the other half of the loop back to the start. It’s not as rocky, a little more shady, and something different to see.

This guide last updated on March 11, 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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