The San Juan Loop Trail by Lake Elsinore is a fun hike that offers an easy glimpse into the Cleveland National Forest's rugged beauty. You'll hike to Ortega Falls, a 35-foot waterfall in a steep ravine, and then you'll meander through lush canyons rich with wildflowers in the spring. The trail also follows San Juan Creek, which usually has water in the spring and early summer, and eventually drains out to the ocean. Overall the San Juan Loop Trail is a great family or beginners hike that packs a lot of scenery into a short distance.
- Video and Turn by Turn Directions for the San Juan Loop Trail
- How to Get to the San Juan Loop Trail
- Insider Hike Tips and What to Look For
When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.
How to Get to San Juan Loop Trail
The San Juan Loop Trail's start is off of Rt-74, aka the Ortega Highway, which traverses the mountains of Cleveland National Forest. This hike starts roughly in the middle of the highway, in a large parking lot for hikers across from the Candy Store, a landmark on the road.
Use this address for the San Juan Loop Trail parking:
34950 Ortega Hwy, Lake Elsinore, CA, 92530
You need to display a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here. I highly recommend investing in the National Parks Pass, which allows you free entry at all federal lands and attractions, of which this is one.
When to Visit
The best time to hike the San Juan Loop Trail is when there's water flowing in the mountains, which usually means spring into early summer. The area becomes a rich green and is often a great place to spot wildflowers. Later in the year, and into winter, the falls and creek are often dry. It's still a nice hike without water though, don't let that stop you if you're considering a visit.
Gear for the Hike
This is a light and easy hike, and you really don't need anything special to do it, but hiking gear or fitness clothing will serve you best. There are rocky sections on the hike, and good footwear like trail runners or hiking shoes, will give you the best experience. Bring 1L of water to make sure that you stay hydrated.
In the summer it can be hot and buggy. Having insect repellant ready will be a smart move.
I waste my time with lousy hiking gear so you don't have to. Only the winners get onto my gear page. There's no fluff, sponsorships, or promotions. It's just gear I personally use, have tested, and recommend. Right now I'm liking my inReach Mini 2, Garmin Epix, and Lone Peak 6 shoes.
My November 2022 Top Gear Picks
HUUUGE!!! ➤REI Cyberweek Sale Including Big Discounts on Hiking Tech Like inReach / Garmin Watches
San Juan Loop Trail Maps
The trail is very easy to follow and there aren't really any tricky sections. Where there are small or old trails, there's generally a "stay on the trail' marker to help you out.
Guides to Help You Navigate
San Juan Loop Trail Hike Directions
Turn by Turn Directions
Here's what Ortega Falls looks like when there's a good amount of water in them.
This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).
Don't Miss Out
- Monthly(ish) Email Newsletter - A list of new guides and important info for hikers.
- YouTube - Subscribe for new video notifications. The best way to get notified every time a new guide goes up.
- Instagram - I occasionally share pretty pictures from my hikes, broadcast live from the trail, and let you know about new guides.