Morgan Trail Hike (Cleveland National Forest)
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||10.5 miles (16.9 km)|
|Hike Time||4-5 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,500 feet (457m)|
|Highest Elevation||2,910 feet (887m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Cleveland National Forest|
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
This is a fee area, get a National Parks pass or Adventure Pass to park here.
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.
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 Shoe – REI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
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.
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
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?
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.
XX Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Check out this great photograph of Morrell Canyon from above.
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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