Modjeska Peak Hike

Modjeska Peak Hike

Distance15 miles (24.2 km)
Time8 Hours (Total Time)
Total Climbing5,160 feet (1573m)
Highest Elevation5,499 feet (1676m)
Dog FriendlyOff Leash Okay
Park NameCleveland National Forest
Park Phone951-736-1811

The Modjeska Peak hike is challenging – long, steep, and sometimes primitive. The hike climbs to the second highest point in Orange County, Modjeska Peak. Modjeska Peak, at 5,499 feet, is the lower peak in Saddleback Mountain. The highest peak (and other peak in Saddleback Mountain) is Santiago Peak. The actual summit is undeveloped and much nicer than nearby Santiago Peak. This is a challenging hike. Don’t try this hike without a good level of fitness.

Oh, and Modjeska Peak was named after the famous Shakespearian actor, Helena Modjeska. She emigrated from Poland, won acclaim in the USA, and eventually passed in Newport Beach in 1909.

Getting to Modjeska Peak

The trailhead and parking is a little tricky, there’s not a clean Google Maps address.

Use this address in your GPS: 31647-31741 Trabuco Creek Rd, Trabuco Canyon, CA 92679.

Here’s the actual latitude and longitude link. You are going to park at the junction on Trabuco Creek Road.

There are some small parking areas along the side of the road here. It’s not a popular trailhead, and I’ve never seen it full.

You need a parking pass for the Cleveland National Forest. I use the affordable National Parks Pass, which gets me in every national park, national monument, and national forest. You can also use an (Southern California only) Adventure Pass, or buy a $5 day permit from the ranger’s office.

Gear for the Hike

This is a long, tough, backcountry hike. Here’s what I bring:

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

If you want to camp, there’s a fire pit on the summit of Modjeska Peak, a nice clearing, and great views. It’s obvious that people have done some backcountry camping here.

Modjeska Peak Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Modjeska Peak Hike 3d map
There’s a ton of climbing as you basically go straight up to one of the tallest peaks in the Santa Ana mountains.
Modjeska Peak Hike elevation
The hike to Modjeska Peak is generally very steep. There’s a short downhill section in the middle where you can catch your breath. Be careful on the downhill return. The steepness is extreme at parts. I strongly advise using hiking poles.

Modjeska Peak Hike Directions

Modjeska Peak Hike parking
There isn’t a parking lot, but you can park anywhere on the side of the road. The trailhead starts on the left hand side of the dirt road, in an area popular with 4x4s.
Modjeska Peak Hike trailhead
The hike starts where the dirt road goes off to the left, across the road from where you parked. Hike through the 4×4 area and make the immediate left to start the hike.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail
The 4×4 road climbs sharply. Keep an eye out for trucks that wrecked off the road (look closely on the right of this picture). This area is popular with off-roaders, but you’ll be away from any craziness shortly.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail goes straight
At about 0.7 miles, ignore the 4×4 road to the left and keep hiking straight.
wrecked trucks
More wrecked trucks litter the side of the trail.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail passes memorial
At about 1.6 miles, you pass a memorial. The trail is pretty steep.
Joplin Truck Trail
At about 1.8 miles, after a particularly steep stretch, you reach the intersection with the Joplin Truck Trail. Hike to the right on this trail.
Joplin Truck Trail
You don’t have to keep an eye open for trucks on the Joplin Truck Trail, just mountain bikers. This stretch of the Modjeska Peak hike is level and pleasant.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail intersection
At about 3.3 miles, you reach an intersection. Go straight through and start to descend towards Old Camp on the Joplin Truck Trail.
 Old Camp
At the bottom of the descent, the trail reaches the remote Old Camp. Continue hiking through the camp.
 Joplin Truck Trail
The Joplin Truck Trail changes dramatically now. It becomes small, overgrown, and primitive. Generally you’ll be alone on this stretch, it’s too technical and steep for mountain bikers, but occasionally I encounter one coming down the trail.
Fallen Tree On Modjeska Peak Hike
Thanks to Mohamed O. for this updated photo on this stretch of trail. The trail here isn’t maintained, so you might be climbing over some fallen trees and making your way through overgrowth.
gps watch
If you have a GPS map, you might notice that the trail doesn’t match up with the official trail path. Just continue on the trail, some official maps are incorrect on this stretch. My GPX has the corrected route.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail
The trail hikes over some streams on the way up. It’s pretty lush, you might want long pants.
Modjeska Peak Hike views
The trail is very steep. Don’t forget to stop and look behind you as the views open up.
gnarled trees
There’s one section of the trail that goes through some gnarled trees. It’s pretty cool.
main divide road
After about 6.1 miles, you arrive at the Main Divide Road. Mountain bikers call it “Pain Divide Road.” This section is a saddle between Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak. Take the right turn here. It’s away from Modjeska, but trust me.
view from Modjeska Peak Hike
Catch your breath by taking in the views. You earned it, the hike up is pretty intense.
Santiago Peak
You’ll see Santiago Peak ahead. Modjeska Peak is free of all the radio towers and development.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail
After a short stretch on the Main Divide Road (0.1 miles), right before the thin point of the saddle, make the hard left up the small trail.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail
This small trail gently climbs through some shady areas.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail
After about 0.6 miles on the small trail, it ends on a primitive road to Modjeska Peak. Hike to the right.
Modjeska Peak Hike views
Views open up to the east as you hike this final climb.
Modjeska Peak Hike trail
One last stretch of the hike and you’re there! After a ton of climbing, this last stretch can be tough.
cris hazzard on Modjeska Peak
Whoa, you made it to Modjeska Peak! You can see by my face that it was a tough day for me. Have a seat at the clearing on the summit, eat a snack, and catch your breath. The day I did this hike in the summer, it was 105F at the summit. Come prepared.
Modjeska Peak panorama view
The summit at Modjeska Peak has some pretty incredible 360 views. I just wanted to stay here for the night. It’s on the list…
fire pit on Modjeska Peak
There’s a firepit if you want to camp. Or drive your 4×4 up here and knock down a case of cheap light beer. You’ve got options.
cris hazzard on Modjeska Peak
To finish the hike, hike back down the way you came. It’s a tough hike down, with lots of steep sections, so stay focused and use your hiking poles to stay upright.

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