San Juan Trail to Sugarloaf Peaks
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||13.9 miles (22.4 km)|
|Hike Time||6-7 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||3,020 feet (921m)|
|Highest Elevation||3,326 feet (1014m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Permit|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Cleveland National Forest|
|Weather & Forecast||Latest Conditions|
|Stay Safe||Copy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.|
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.
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
You need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here.
Gear For the Hike
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.
Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI
Altra Lone Peak 6
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. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2022.
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.
Sugarloaf Peaks Trail Maps
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?
Here’s what I use. 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 7 or Epix. 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.
- There are 19 other “Sugarloaf” mountains in California, including the popular one near Big Bear. There’s also a Sugarloaf by Mt Baldy that you can scramble up. Peakbagger lists 100 officially named “Sugarloaf” peaks around the world.
- Pleasants Peak, north of Santiago Peak, was also called Sugarloaf. But in 1933 the fire lookout on Santiago Peak (there used to be a fire tower there) suggested that the peak be named after J.C. Pleasant, a pioneer who lived in the mountains since 1860, to avoid confusion. And so it was.
- The 11.6 mile San Juan Trail is one of the most popular mountain bike descent trails in Southern California. Although it is ridden in both directions, the typical way to ride it is by shuttling to the top by Blue Jay Campground, and then riding all 11.6 downhill, The trail can be narrow, but I’ve never had a problem stepping to the side when bikes come by.
San Juan to Sugarloafs Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
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.
This guide last updated on May 8, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.