San Juan Loop Trail Guide (CA)
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||2.1 miles (3.4 km)|
|Hike Time||1-2 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||440 feet (134m)|
|Highest Elevation||2,000 feet (610m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Pass|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Cleveland National Forest|
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.
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.
Better Than a Selfie Stick
Part of the fun of a hike is taking pictures, and a flexible JOBY smartphone tripod takes it to the next level. You can use it as a selfie stick, as a regular tripod, but more importantly, as a flexible tripod that can attach to tree branches and other objects. It’s not expensive, and it’s something you can use when not hiking too.
Your Biggest Asset If You Get Lost
If something goes wrong and you get lost, sprain your ankle, or get delayed, you might be caught out after dark. And one of the top items that search and rescue departments recommend you carry is a light. Now smartphones have lights, but they drain the battery quickly. It’s better to invest in an expensive yet high-quality headlamp like the Black Diamond Astro 250. It takes AAA batteries, can last 200 hours, and has an emergency strobe. Carry it with you off the trail to use in emergencies as well.
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REI Membership Saves You Money Forever
Have you shopped at REI before? They have all kinds of active clothes and gear, from fitness, to hiking, to snow sports, to casual wear. It’s an overall great place to shop (here’s why) and they offer a $20 membership that gets you 10% back on everything for life, along with frequent coupons, discounts, and member-only sales. It’s a no-brainer.
Get It Here
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2021.
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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.
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.
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
San Juan Loop Trail Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Here’s what Ortega Falls looks like when there’s a good amount of water in them.
This guide last updated on July 14, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
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