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San Juan Trail To Sugarloaf Peaks
Hikes In Orange County

San Juan Trail to Sugarloaf Peaks

  • 13.9 miles - Hard Effort
  • 6-7 Hours (Total)
  • 3,020 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 3,326 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

what does this mean?

Yes, more Sugarloaf Peaks. We have a pair of them this time, and they're in Cleveland National Forest. This challenging route on the popular San Juan Trail, once a native path traversing the Santa Anas, brings you to Old Sugarloaf and (new) Sugarloaf, which you can bag and enjoy some great views in the process. It's a challenging hike into a remote section of this rugged and underrated area.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the San Juan Trail to the Sugarloaf Peaks
  • Where to Park for the Hike
  • Insider Tips and Recomendations

When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

Where is the San Juan Trail?

The hike starts at the western terminus of the San Juan Trails, at the Hotsprings Trailhead. Use this trailhead address:
Hotsprings Trailhead, Hot Spring Canyon Rd, Lake Elsinore, CA 92530

San Juan Trail To Sugarloaf Peaks Directions 4
There's a short section of dirt road before you reach the trailhead, and it's passable in low-clearance vehicles.
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The parking lot is massive but does get full when mountain bikers are out. Get here early and you should be okay.

You need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here.

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There are primitive toilets at the trailhead.

Gear For the Hike

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Descending from Old Sugarloaf without a trekking pole is not recommended. Bring at least one for this very steep section. This image doesn't do it justice, trust me.

This is an exposed and tough climb, typical of the Santa Anas. The best time to do this is when temperatures are cooler, and even then, I bring 3L of water. You'll also want some insect repellant. The final climb to both peaks is overgrown and steep. The smart move is long pants, long sleeves, and a trekking pole. On the day I created this guide, I had short sleeves and shorts on and got moderately scratched up, but nothing too serious.

Gear 2022 8

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

San Juan Trail To Sugarloaf Peaks Directions 3
Pay attention to the trail. I almost always see a rattlesnake on this hike when it's warm out. There are also mountain bikes. It's not the place to hike with headphones.

Sugarloaf Peaks Trail Maps

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There are mile markers along the trail, but the mileage is from the other end of the San Juan Trail by Blue Jay Campground.
Click Here To View

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Elevation Profile

San Juan Trail To Sugarloaf Peaks Elevation
Here's the profile from the start to the second Sugarloaf peak. It's a very gradual and steady climb, aside from the extremely steep use trails to both summits.

3D Map

San Juan Trail To Sugarloaf Peaks 3d Elevation
It's an out-and-back hike to the peaks. The start features multiple switchbacks, and then you have a long gradual approach along the ridge to the peaks.

Hike Brief

Historic Sugarloaf Mountain Topo Map
Why two Sugarloafs? USGS topographic maps from 1960 and earlier show the higher peak as Sugarloaf (the larger font on this overlay). When the 1983 USGS topographic map came out, the peak moved to the smaller peak. I think that this was an error.  Today "Old Sugarloaf" refers to the higher point on the 1960 and earlier maps, and "Sugarloaf" is the post-1983 map peak.

San Juan to Sugarloafs Hike Directions

Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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The trail starts across the road from the toilet.
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There's a nice big sign here to avoid any confusion.
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The beginning of the trail is easy to spot.
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Start climbing on the 15 switchbacks.
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Enjoy the views into Hot Springs Canyon.

If you're really up for a challenge, try the Los Pinos Trail, which runs along the ridge in the distance of the previous image. Unfortunately, it's very overgrown and you need to call ahead and get permission to park at the trailhead from the Lazy W Ranch. I did it years ago and it kicked my butt. If the trail condition improves, I'll do a guide. It's not for the faint of heart. Alltrails route here if you're interested.

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After the switchbacks the trail turns north and steadily climbs.
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After clearing Peak 2040 on the right, you'll get incredible views into San Juan Canyon. The high point across the canyon is Sitton Peak.
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You'll see the mile markers updating you on progress as you climb.
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You round a bend and get your first views of Sugarloaf.
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From the last viewpoint you can also see Santiago Peak.
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And also the Sugarloafs. The taller Old Sugarloaf is on the left, and the (new) Sugarloaf is on the right.
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Keep climbing up the beautifully maintained trail.
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If you look to the right, you'll see Margarita Peak poking above the closer peaks. Margarita Peak sits at the northern border of Camp Pendleton.
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The Sugarloafs loom larger as you approach.
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When you reach the base of Old Sugarloaf, look for the turnoff on the left, just before the trail turns sharply right. Sometimes it's just marked with a stone cairn. Today the mark was fancy.
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The beginning of the use trail to the summit is moderately steep and overgrown. The trail is easy to follow if you look at the ground for the path.
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Okay, now it's time to put the big kid pants on and really work. This image doesn't do the steepness justice, but trust me, you'll see it when you're there. You'll be climbing about 500 feet in 0.3 miles. Take it slow and steady.
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And here you are, at the summit!
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The views from here stretch from San Jacinto to Catalina. Slightly northeast is Los Pinos Peak.
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Okay, now you've got to descend that tough climb. Again, take your time, make sure your footing is solid, and stay safe. Directly ahead here is the other Sugarloaf, which is a much easier climb.
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At the bottom continue left on the San Juan Trail.
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As you head to the next Sugarloaf, look to the left and admire the tough climb you just did up Old Sugarloaf.
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The trail is very pleasant as you cover the last mile or so to the next climb.
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The trail winds around to the east side of Sugarloaf.
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At the wide junction, make the hard left and climb for a minute or two.
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And then look for the small and easy to miss use trail off to the left. Usually there's a cairn here marking the trail.
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Once you turn off the San Juan Trail, the use trail veers to the left.
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This use trail to the summit is overgrown and steep, but nothing even close to the climb up Old Sugarloaf.
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There are few boulders to climb up. Nothing too crazy.
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And then you go through this very photo-worthy split in the boulder.
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And here you are a the summit of (new) Sugarloaf.
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There's a nice flat rock here to take in the views and refuel.
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And that's it! From here, just head back down the San Juan Trail to the Hotsprings trailhead. Have fun!

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
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!).

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