Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak)
|In This Guide|
|Distance||15.6 miles (25.1 km)|
|Time||8 Hours (Total Time)|
|Total Climbing||3,920 feet (1195m)|
|Highest Elevation||5,689 feet (1734m)|
|Dog Friendly||Off Leash Okay|
|Park Name||Cleveland National Forest|
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.
Update: 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 snow on Saddleback Mountain occasionally, so check the weather.
Here’s what I bring:
- Good hiking boots
- Trekking poles
- Daypack with 4.5-6L of water
- Extra Layers
- Emergency gear to spend the night
- An emergency beacon
If there’s been rain, there are some small streams at the beginning of the hike. Trekking poles help you navigate them.
My Top Gear Picks
Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:
- Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
- Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
- Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.
I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.
See My Full Gear List
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.
I highly recommend bringing a good 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 Plus 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 Directions
Subscribe to HikingGuy on YouTube
You can watch this video in 360 degrees.
I have a version of this video where you can pan around in 360 degrees and see every angle of every trail junction, the trail conditions, and more. This is how you can use and view them.
Turn by Turn Directions
Was This Guide Helpful?
It’s easy to help support this site (which I use to offset website hosting costs, etc.). Simply click on a link below to buy anything from REI or Amazon. I get a small percentage and you don’t pay anything extra.
Support With REI
Support With Amazon
You can also make a donation if you’d like, but please don’t feel obligated to do so.
The content on this site will always be free for everyone to enjoy.
And you can help other hikers as well. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and send me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.
You May Also Enjoy
Orange County Hiking