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.
Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.
Latest Price on Women’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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 Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 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?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.
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 January 29, 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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