Sitton Peak Hike

Sitton Peak Hike

In This Guide
  • How to Get to the Sitton Peak Trailhead
  • Sitton Peak Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance9.2 miles (14.8 km)
Time4:30 Hours (Total Time)
Total Climbing2,200 feet (671m)
Highest Elevation3,273 feet (998m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park NameTrabuco Ranger District
Park Phone951-736-1811

The Sitton Peak hike offers great 360 views of the Santa Ana Mountains, San Diego County, Orange County, and Catalina on a clear day.  Sitton Peak (3,273ft) is one of the high peaks in the southern part of Cleveland National Forest, and this hike is much easier than the hike to Saddleback Mountain, with views that are comparable. The trail has some flat sections to catch your breath, making it a great hike for beginners.

Sitton Peak is also unique in that it straddles two watersheds, the San Mateo Creek, which drains out by San Clemente, and the San Juan Creek, which drains out at Dana Point. There are also lots of opportunities for wildlife spotting on this hike.

Getting to the Sitton Peak Trailhead

Use this trailhead address: San Juan Loop Trailhead, Trabuco Canyon, CA, 92679, USA.

There’s a sizable parking lot with primitive bathrooms. The Candy Shop across the street from the parking lot has snacks and drinks for sale. They also have maps, but I wouldn’t depend on them as your only means of navigation.

You need a parking pass for the Cleveland National Forest. I use the affordable National Parks Pass, which gets me in every national park, national monument, and national forest. You can also use an (Southern California only) Adventure Pass, or buy a $5 day permit from the Candy Store across the street from the parking lot.

I usually do this one early to beat the crowds and heat.

sitton peak hike parking
The parking lot is well marked and offers a lot of spots.
sitton peak hike bathrooms
There are bathrooms in the parking lot. Nothing fancy.
candy store on sitton peak hike
The Candy Store across the street from the lot has food and sells one day parking passes if you don’t have a National Parks Pass.

Gear for the Hike

Lizard On Sitton Peak Trail
Keep your eyes open for the Coast Horned Lizard. I’ve seen a few here, but you really need to look around. Photo Amanda44

This whole area is a great place to spot wildlife. If you hike on a summer weekday and keep your eyes open, you’re sure to spot some reptiles sunning. I’ve spotted red diamond rattlesnakes, horned lizards, deer, quail, falcons, and hawks. If you do encounter wildlife, give it a wide berth if it hasn’t run away from you already. Bring a camera with a long lens if you have one.

This is a “hike” hike and you should bring hiking gear, although you can probably get away with fitness clothes and water. Here’s what I would recommend:

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

Sitton Peak Trail Maps

While there’s some steep climbing on the last stretch to Sitton Peak, the trails are generally well marked and there are level sections to catch your breath. It’s a great hike for beginners and intermediate hikers.

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

stilton peak hike 3d map
The trail winds up the spines of the Santa Ana Mountains to the highest point in this area, Sitton Peak. Large parts of the hike have great views of the San Mateo Wilderness.
stilton peak hike elevation
The hike is a moderate uphill with some level sections to catch your breath. The last part of the hike to Sitton Peak is the steepest, but is not too long.

Sitton Peak Hike Directions

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Turn by Turn Hiking Directions

sitton peak hike trailhead
The trailhead is just to the right (west) of the candy store, across the street from the parking lot.
Bear Canyon Trailhead sign
The Bear Canyon Trailhead sign marks the start of the hike.
hike notice board
Take a look at the notice board before you start. Always good to check on trail conditions or closures.
hike sign in box
After the notice board you’ll see a sign in box.
signing in for sitton peak hike
The hike is free (aside from the parking) – you just need to sign in.
sitton peak hike climbs
The trail is well marked and starts to climb gradually.
boulders on sitton peak hike
The first part of the hike has some awesome boulders.
ign for the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness
Just under a mile, you’ll reach the sign for the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.
sitton peak hike trail junction
Just over a mile, there’s a trail junction. Head right on the Bear Canyon trail.
sitton peak hike trail sign
Here’s a closeup of the sign at the junction. These white trail signs are found throughout the hike.
sitton peak hike
The trail climbs gradually again. You’ll pass through oak groves and some shaded areas.
sitton peak hike junction
At around 2 miles, you reach a big junction. Make the hard right.
sitton peak hike sign
Here’s a closeup of the sign at the junction. You’re heading to 4 corners.
sitton peak trail
You’ll see Sitton Peak in the distance. This section of trail is level and a good time to catch your breath. As you get higher, the oak disappears and gives way to chaparral.
4 corners
At about 3.2 miles you reach 4 corners, which is actually 5 corners. Make the very hard right.
sitton peak trail
This is the start of that very hard right turn.
sitton peak sign
Here’s a closeup of the sign. Head toward Sitton Peak.
views of the high peaks to the north
The trail starts to climb again and you’ll get views of the high peaks to the north.
sitton peak trail
This part of the trail is more primitive and overgrown, but still well marked.
sitton peak hike trail
Just after 4 miles there’s a few trails splitting off to lower peaks. Continue straight through. The trail will start to head downhill.
sitton peak hike descends
The trail descends. It doesn’t seem like the right way, but it is.
sitton peak
As the trail goes down, you’ll see the path to Sitton Peak looming in front of you.
sitton peak hike right turn
This junction is easy to miss. Just after 4.3 miles, make the right onto the much smaller trail.
sitton peak trail
This is the most challenging part of the hike. The trail is small and not well marked. It also splits apart and comes back together many times. Look for footprints and keep heading up.
sitton peak
Eventually trail levels out and you’ll see the peak in front of you.
sitton peak sign
There’s a cool little sign marking Sitton Peak. Sometimes it gets stolen, so if you’re not seeing it, it might be in some jerk’s garage.
sitton peak hike USGS marker and trail log
There’s also a USGS marker and trail log. Feel free to sign your name or not. It’s pretty fun to read the old entries in the summit log – there are some funny ones in there.
360 views from sitton peak
You’ll have 360 views from the peak. Take your time and soak it all in.
cris hazzard on sitton peak hike
Grab your selfies and head back down the way you came. Enjoy the hike!

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