Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak)

Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak)

In This Guide
  • Saddleback Mountain or Santiago Peak?
  • How to Get to the Saddleback Mountain Hike
  • Saddleback Mountain Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance15.6 miles (25.1 km)
Time8 Hours (Total Time)
DifficultyHard
Total Climbing3,920 feet (1195m)
Highest Elevation5,689 feet (1734m)
Dog FriendlyOff Leash Okay
Park NameCleveland National Forest
Park Phone951-736-1811

Hiking Saddleback Mountain takes you to the highest point in Orange County, Santiago Peak. It’s also the highest point in the Santa Ana mountains at 5,689 feet. This hike takes the scenic Holy Jim Trail, which is also the shortest route to the summit. This is a long and challenging hike. Don’t try this hike without a good level of fitness.

Saddleback Mountain is actually two peaks, Santiago Peak and the lower Modjeska Peak. Saddleback Mountain can be seen from most of Orange County and dominates the skyline. It’s called Saddleback Mountain because the two peaks look like a saddle from most of Orange County. This hike goes to the higher Santiago Peak, but you can also hike to the lower Modjeska Peak.

Santiago Peak is named after Santiago Creek, which starts on the upper slopes of the mountains and then flows into the Santa Ana River, eventually joining the ocean at Huntingdon Beach.

How to Get to the Saddleback Mountain Hike

Use this GPS address: Main Parking for Holy Jim Falls and Trail, Corona, CA, 92883, USA.

Getting to the Holy Jim trailhead is half the fun. It’s a dirt road for about 6 miles, and is best done in 4×4. You can do it in a car, but some sections are very rutted and require a careful (and slow) drive.

dirt road
The directions to the Holy Jim trailhead will bring you onto the dirt road. This is the start of it.
sign for the Holy Jim Trail
A few miles in on the drive, you’ll see a sign for the Holy Jim Trail. The road gets more rutted here.
Holy Jim Trailhead sign
When you get to the trailhead, there’s an incorrect sign pointing back the way you came for parking. Ignore and park in the lot around the Holy Jim Trailhead sign.

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 tough hike and you need to be well prepared with layers, water, and food. The upper slopes are generally free of snow, making it a good mountain hike for the winter. It does snow on Saddleback Mountain occasionally, so check the weather.

Here’s what I bring:

If there’s been rain, there are some small streams at the beginning of the hike. Trekking poles help you navigate them.

Garmin inreach review

If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.

See The Gear I Use

Saddleback Mountain Trail Maps

There are mountain bikers on all these trails, so keep your eye out and give them the right of way, especially on the narrow sections of the Holy Jim Trail.

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing some form of 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 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

Saddleback Mountain Hike 3d map
This route takes the Upper Holy Jim Trail for the ascent, then descends down the Main Divide Road back to the Lower Holy Jim Trail.
Saddleback Mountain Hike
Santiago Peak is the highest point in Orange County, so plan on going up. There are a few sections to catch your breath. The first half of the hike is gentler than the second half.

Saddleback Mountain Hike Directions

Hike Video

Want to see this in 360/VR? I have a version of this video where you can pan around in 360 degrees and see every angle of every trail junction, etc. - check it out here on YouTube

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Turn by Turn Directions

Holy Jim Trailhead board
Park in the lot by the trail board. The Holy Jim Trailhead board has a map and some hike information. The Holy Jim Trail is what you hike to Santiago Peak.
holy jim trail sign
Hike to the left of the board. There’s a huge sign pointing you in the right direction.
Saddleback Mountain Hike dirt road
As you hike up the road, you’ll pass private cottages. Keep hiking straight on the dirt road.
Holy Jim Trail trailhead
At about 0.5 miles you arrive at the official Holy Jim Trail trailhead. The mile markers you will see on the trail start from here, but the mileage in these hike directions start from the parking lot.
Saddleback Mountain Hike
The trail is well defined and meanders through alders and oaks. There are also some some stream crossings, which are dry for most of the year.
Saddleback Mountain Hike trail split
At about 1.4 miles, the trail splits. Head left to Santiago Peak. Right takes you to Holy Jim Falls.
Saddleback Mountain Hike
Now you climb. And climb some more. The hike goes steadily uphill. Mile markers motivate you as you continue up the trail.
Saddleback Mountain Hike views
The views of the Santa Ana Mountains open up as you climb. Stop to enjoy them and catch your breath.
4 mile marker on Saddleback Mountain Hike
The climb to Santiago Peak eases up for a bit around the 4 mile marker.
Saddleback Mountain Hike views
As the trail crosses the mountain face, views of the Pacific Ocean open up.
Saddleback Mountain Hike trail junction
At about 5.1 miles, you arrive at the Main Divide Road. You can make the left turn, but don’t, it’s not the scenic route. Make the (counterintuitive) right turn here.
Upper Holy Jim Trail sign
Right after getting on the road, you’ll see a sign for the Upper Holy Jim Trail – this is the next trail you’ll take.
Main Divide Road
The Main Divide Road to Upper Holy Jim is pretty wide and easy.
Upper Holy Jim Trail start
Keep your eye out on the left for the Upper Holy Jim Trail start. It’s about 0.5 miles after getting on the Main Divide Road.
sign for the Upper Holy Jim Trailhead
There’s a sign for the Upper Holy Jim Trailhead. Take this trail and start hiking uphill again. UPDATE: I got a report that the sign is gone, so be extra aware when you’re looking for this turnoff, it’s easy to miss.
5 mile marker
The 5 mile marker encourages you to keep climbing.
Saddleback Mountain Hike
The radio antennas on the Santiago Peak summit look so close, but you still have some work to do on the hike.
Saddleback Mountain Hike views
The Upper Holy Jim Trail has great views of the Inland Empire and the San Bernardino Mountains. Stop often to catch your breath on the way to Saddleback Mountain.
Saddleback Mountain Hike right turn
At about 6.4 miles, you’ll rejoin the Main Divide Road. Make the right here and continue to climb.
Main Divide Road
The Main Divide Road climbs steeply to Santiago Peak. Almost there!
santiago peak summit
You did it, Santiago Peak!
path to summit on saddleback
So the summit can get a bit tricky. There are a lot of roads and tower areas. This satellite map shows you the path to the summit marker.
path to summit on saddleback
When you first get to the summit area, stay right toward the higher towers.
path to summit on saddleback
At the other side of the summit you’ll see this little building. Continue around the side of it for the actual summit.
path to summit on saddleback
This little trail brings you up the summit. Pretty anticlimactic after the miles you just did, but who cares!
path to summit on saddleback
THE SUMMIT OF SANTIAGO PEAK! You did it. There’s a trail register and sometimes a wood summit sign.
cris hazzard on Saddleback Mountain
Take your selfies and head back down the way you came. My recommendation would be to skip going down the Upper Holy Jim Trail and just continue down the Main Divide Road until you reach the (lower) Holy Jim Trail.

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