Morgan Trail Hike Cleveland National Forest

Morgan Trail Hike (Cleveland National Forest)

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Morgan Trail
  • Parking / Recommended Direction for the Hike
  • Insider Tips For the Morgan Trail
Total Distance (?)10.5 miles (16.9 km)
Hike Time4-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,500 feet (457m)
Highest Elevation2,910 feet (887m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Cleveland National Forest
Park Phone951-736-1811

Hiking the Morgan Trail takes you on a serene journey through the rugged San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, off the beaten path and away from the hustle and bustle of other nearby and popular trails. You’ll hike through the chaparral with high peaks of the Santa Anas flanking you until you reach scenic and shaded Morrell Canyon, full of willows, sycamore, and oaks. And at the end of the Morgan Trail, you’ll be treated to epic views of Lake Elsinore and the high peaks of Southern California.

Where is the Morgan Trail?

The Morgan Trail is point-to-point, with the official parking area on the east side of the trail. However, I prefer starting the hike from the western end, which is at the big parking lot by the Ortega Oaks Candy Store on SR-74. With this routing, you do most climbing on the outward leg, get to see Morrell Canyon and the view at the end, and then have a (generally) downhill hike back to the start. Hiking the Morgan Trail in the other direction is a bit anticlimactic.

Use this address for the trailhead:
San Juan Loop Trailhead. 34950 CA-74, Lake Elsinore, CA 92530

Morgan Trail Directions 1
The parking lot is huge and shared by hikers hitting Sitton Peak, Chiquito Falls, the San Juan Loop, and other hikes.
Morgan Trail Directions 4
There’s a bathroom at the far end of the parking lot.

This is a fee area, get a National Parks pass or Adventure Pass to park here.

Morgan Trail Directions 2
Don’t start the hike at the trailhead in the parking lot.
Morgan Trail Directions 3
Instead (carefully) cross SR-74 and make the right down the other side of the street.

If you want sandwiches, drinks, or snacks, the Ortega Oaks Candy Store, right across the street, is a good bet.

Gear For the Hike

This is a backcountry hike, so I recommend proper hiking gear. It can get very hot here in the warmer months, and much of the trail is exposed. I generally bring 2-3L of water depending on the temperature.

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.


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 a big discount 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 September 2021.

My September 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.

Morgan Trail Maps

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.

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

Morgan Trail Elevation
This profile makes the (one-way) hike look much tougher than it is. The climb is very subtle with several short steeper uphill sections. Overall the trail feels like a gently rolling profile.

3D Map

Morgan Trail 3d Map
From the parking area we wind around to the east, hitting Morrell Canyon and the viewpoints of Lake Elsinore at the end.

XX Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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

Turn by Turn Directions

Morgan Trail Directions 5
After crossing the road, look for the ramp heading up to the trailhead.
Morgan Trail Directions 6
We’re starting the hike on the Bear Canyon Trail, make the left onto the start of the trail.
Morgan Trail Directions 7
You’ll pass an interpretive display.
Morgan Trail Directions 8
And then you’ll see the trail board.
Morgan Trail Directions 9
Shortly after that is the trail register.
Morgan Trail Directions 10
Sign in and continue the hike.
Morgan Trail Directions 11
The trail climbs, and if you’ve done the Sitton Peak hike, this is the same trail you start on for that.
Morgan Trail Directions 12
At about 0.75 miles in you’ll enter the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.
Morgan Trail Directions 13
Enjoy the shaded sections.
Morgan Trail Directions 14
And at about a mile, you’ll come to the intersection where the Morgan Trail starts. Make the left onto the Morgan Trail. And yup, that’s an orb.
Morgan Trail Directions 15
Here’s the trail marker at that intersection.
Morgan Trail Directions 16
Right away you start hiking through the oaks and climbing gently.
Morgan Trail Directions 17
As you emerge from the trees and gain a little altitude, off to your left you have nice views of Los Pinos Peak (left) and Horsethief Peak (right).
Morgan Trail Directions 18
Go straight through the Tenaja Truck Trail.
Morgan Trail Directions 19
The corridor along the truck trail is outside the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, and you’ll see a sign letting you know that you’ve reentered after you cross.
Morgan Trail Directions 20
You’ll go through a little meadow, an extension of the (private) Round Potrero area (round paddock) off to the right.
Morgan Trail Directions 21
Then pass over the dirt driveway to continue on the trail.
Morgan Trail Directions 22
Now you have a mellow rolling hike through the chaparral. Stay left at this split.
Morgan Trail Directions 23
Off to the right you’ll see San Mateo Peak.
Morgan Trail Directions 24
Go straight at the trail marker.
Morgan Trail Directions 25
And then shortly after that you’ll have a big junction with the Tenaja Falls Trail. Go straight through here.
Morgan Trail Directions 26
Here’s a sign for the Tenaja Falls Trail. You can also hike to these spectacular falls from farther south.
Morgan Trail Directions 27
On the right you’ll see one of the welded metal post style trail markers. It can be confusing since the arrow points backwards, but keep going straight.
Morgan Trail Directions 28
The scenery around you becomes dramatic, with huge smooth boulders and views of Los Pinos and Trabuco Peak off to the left.
Morgan Trail Directions 29
And soon you’ll notice that the chapparal gives way to larger trees, which is your entry to Morrell Canyon.

Check out this great photograph of Morrell Canyon from above.

Morgan Trail Directions 30
You’ll cross over the stream bed (almost always dry).
Morgan Trail Directions 31
And then continue on the northwest side of the canyon.
Morgan Trail Directions 32
Most of Morrell Canyon is shaded, peaceful, and isolated from the outside world.
Morgan Trail Directions 33
After a nice stretch through the shade, you’ll leave the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.
Morgan Trail Directions 34
And the canyon flattens out, with the trees more dispersed.
Morgan Trail Directions 35
You’ll pass the trail register for those starting on this end of the trail.
Morgan Trail Directions 36
And right after that is a split, hike to the left. There’s a spring, Lion Spring, a few minutes down on the right, but I’ve never seen it flowing.
Morgan Trail Directions 37
And after a little climb you’ll reach the other end of the Morgan Trail.
Morgan Trail Directions 38
There’s a trail board.
Morgan Trail Directions 39
And an official parking area sign.
Morgan Trail Directions 40
Cross the street for a nice view down into the city of Lake Elsinore.
Morgan Trail Directions 41
And for a view of the lake, do the short stretch up the trail to the right.
Morgan Trail Directions 42
And you’ll get nice views of the lake itself. From here, just turn around and return the way you came!

This guide last updated on July 14, 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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