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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
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
Stay SafeCopy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.

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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 2
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.

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Garmin Inreach Mini 2

Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

Altra Lone Peak 6
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 Terraventure 3 or 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. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 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 

Gregory Zulu 30

Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.

Women’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated June 2022.

My June 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.

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

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?
Here’s what I use. 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 7 or Epix. 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.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 6
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 7
A gentle climb brings you out of the brush and you get nice views up Decker Canyon.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 8
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 9
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 11
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 12
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 13
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 14
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.

Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 15
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 18
There’s some rolling and flat terrain as you hike along a tributary of the creek.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 19
The trail crosses the tributary to the left. There can be water flowing here too.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 20
From here on out, you’ll be mostly climbing. Although there are exposed sections that get very hot, there are stretches of shade.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 21
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 22
There are some shady spots like this. There’s even moss growing on the rock!
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 23
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 24
And ahead of you Sitton Peak comes into view.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 25
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 28
Once you wind around the hill and head up Lion Canyon, keep your eyes open for Santiago Peak peaking out above the ridge.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 29
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 31
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.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 32
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.

Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 33
You can take the use trail down to the bottom of the falls to check it all out.
Chiquito Falls Trail Directions 34
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 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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