- Home - Hiking Trails - Orange County Hiking Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak)
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. This hike takes the scenic Holy Jim Trail, which is also the shortest route to the summit.
15.6 miles (25.1 km)
3920 ft (1195 m)
Marked trails, dirt roads
Some other hikers, but not crowded.
Saddleback Mountain Hike Trail Maps
Use this address in Google Maps to get to the trailhead:
Main Parking for Holy Jim Falls and Trail, Corona, CA, 92883, USA
The Saddleback Mountain hike trailhead is about an hour east of Newport Beach, and about 70 minutes south of Anaheim.
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.
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.
Interactive Map Saddleback Mountain Hike Map Downloads Gear for the Saddleback Mountain Hike The best hydration daypack out there. The CamelBak Fourteener has been perfect on hikes of all distances (including Mt Whitney and Cactus to Clouds). It's light, has plenty of room for super-food snacks, extra layers, hiking gear, and comes with a 3 liter water bladder. I also like the raised sweat pads on the back that keep your back dry. It's the perfect blend of high-tech, durability, and simplicity. I've got hundreds of hours on it and still love it. CamelBak Fourteener Reviews My favorite hiking boot of all time. The La Sportiva Synthesis (for men and women) are waterproof, super-light, have incredible grip, and won a Backpacker Magazine Editor's Choice Award ( my review here). I've gone through a lot of boots and these are my favorite. They feel like comfortable sneakers with the protection of hiking boots. La Sportiva Hiking Boot Reviews Don't hike without this in your backpack. It's a GPS emergency beacon and can save your life ( more on that here). On the trail, you're often out of cell phone range, and even something as simple as a twisted ankle could become a life and death situation. This beacon works where cell phones don't and is the size of a fist. Just press a button and help is on the way. Your life is worth every penny. ACR GPS Beacon Reviews For my complete gear list and survival kit contents, check out my post on the modern hiking essentials here. I'd also recommend taking a quick look at the Every day they mark down great quality hiking gear, fitness gear, and clothing. Pick up an inexpensive lifetime REI Outlet site. REI Membership for an extra 10% off. Saddleback Mountain Hike Directions What to Expect 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. This hike goes to the higher Santiago Peak. If there’s been rain, there are some small streams at the beginning of the hike. Bring some good trekking poles and it won’t be a problem. 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. This is a long and challenging hike. Don’t try this hike without a good level of fitness. 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 expect to go very slow. 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. Turn by Turn Directions
The hike directions start with the last part of the drive to the trailhead. It’s on a dirt road that’s best tackled with a 4×4 or high clearance vehicle. You can do it in a car, but some sections are very rutted and require a careful drive.
The directions to the Holy Jim trailhead will bring you onto the dirt road. This is the start of it. A few miles in on the drive, you’ll see a sign for the Holy Jim Trail. The road gets more rutted here. 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. 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. Hike to the left of the board. There’s a huge sign pointing you in the right direction. As you hike up the road, you’ll pass private cottages. Keep hiking straight on the dirt road. 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. 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. At about 1.4 miles, the trail splits. Head left to Santiago Peak. Now you climb. And climb some more. The hike goes steadily uphill. Mile markers motivate you as you continue up the trail. The views of the Santa Ana Mountains open up as you climb. Stop to enjoy them and catch your breath. The climb to Santiago Peak eases up for a bit around the 4 mile marker. As the trail crosses the mountain face, views of the Pacific Ocean open up. 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. 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. The Main Divide Road to Upper Holy Jim is pretty wide and easy. 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. 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. The 5 mile marker encourages you to keep climbing. The radio antennas on the Santiago Peak summit look so close, but you still have some work to do on the hike. 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. At about 6.4 miles, you’ll rejoin the Main Divide Road. Make the right here and continue to climb. The Main Divide Road climbs steeply to Santiago Peak. Almost there! You did it, Santiago Peak! 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. When you first get to the summit area, stay right toward the higher towers. At the other side of the summit you’ll see this little building. Continue around the side of it for the actual summit. This little trail brings you up the summit. Pretty anticlimactic after the miles you just did, but who cares! THE SUMMIT OF SANTIAGO PEAK! You did it. There’s a trail register and sometimes a wood summit sign. 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. An easy way to give back is to simply pick up any trash you see on the trail. A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.
The Modjeska Peak hike is challenging – long, steep, and sometimes primitive. The hike climbs to the second highest point in Orange County, Modjeska Peak. The actual summit is undeveloped and much nicer than nearby Santiago Peak.
The Sitton Peak hike offers great 360 views of the Santa Ana Mountains, San Diego County, Orange County, and Catalina on a clear day. The hike to Sitton Peak is much easier than the hike to Saddleback Mountain, with views that are comparable. The trail has some flat sections to catch your breath, making it a great hike for beginners.
The Bedford Peak hike in Orange County is a tough one with big payoffs. The trail to Bedford Peak climbs about 2000 feet in 3 miles, and your reward is great views of Mt Baldy, Saddleback Mountain, and Catalina.
The Indian Truck Trail offers an alternate way to hike Santiago Peak (Saddleback Mountain). The Indian Truck Trail is long, not too technical, and a great training hike for Mt Whitney.
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I’m Hiking Guy, aka Cris Hazzard. I like to get outdoors, walk, and then write about it. It wasn’t always like that though.
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