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
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions

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.

Gear 2022 8

I waste my time with lousy hiking gear so you don’t have to. Only the winners get onto my gear page. There’s no fluff, sponsorships, or promotions. It’s just gear I personally use, have tested, and recommend. Right now I’m liking my inReach Mini 2, Garmin Epix, and Lone Peak 6 shoes.
My September 2022 Top Gear Picks

Morgan Trail Maps

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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

Video Directions

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.

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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.
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!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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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!).

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