Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak)
|In This Guide|
|Distance||15.6 miles (25.1 km)|
|Hike Time||8 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||4,300 feet (1311m)|
|Highest Elevation||5,689 feet (1734m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee|
|Park Website||Cleveland National Forest|
|Stay In Touch||Newsletter - Instagram - YouTube - Facebook|
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.
The Holy Jim Fire has closed this hike for the near future. Try the nearby Sitton Peak Hike which offers great views as well.
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.
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 occasionally snow on Saddleback Mountain however, so check the weather. In the summer it can be brutally hot as well. Go early in summer months to avoid the worst of it.
I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: Women – Men
On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.
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 Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI.
I’m a big fan of GPS watches (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar. I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy and does a lot of the same things.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here
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 offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
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.
Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak) Map Downloads
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
Saddleback Mountain Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.