Monday, September 10, 2007

Laurel Springs (Via the Harding Truck Trail)

A hike to Laurel Springs is a fun Orange County day hike in the Santa Ana Mountains. In September of 2007, Ashley and I hiked up to Laurel Springs, which is located in the Cleveland National Forest. This was a great hike because the views continually get better the higher you go on the trail. The hike to Laurel Springs is is a strenuous hike and is a great workout. The trail is well maintained and clearly marked and offers amazing views of the greater Orange County area. This is a great Orange County Hike for any Orange County Hiker to do.

Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead to hike to Laurel Springs in the Cleveland National Forest is located right by the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. Here is a map with directions to get to the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. If you are coming from South Orange County take the 5 freeway and exit at El Toro Rd. Follow El Toro Rd for a while (multiple miles) until you reach Modjeska Canyon Rd. Make a right onto Modjeska Canyon Rd. Drive through the olive trees, across a small bridge and make a left around the large oak tree at the "T" in the road. Continue on Modjeska Canyon Road past the fire station to the end of the public road. The Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary is on your left. Park on the street or in the gravel lot just beyond the sanctuary. A Google map is also below for a trail map of this hike in the Cleveland National Forest.

Description of Hike: The hike to Laurel Springs is a great hike and best of all we were rewarded with the coolness of a mountain spring (Do not drink the water without treating it). The hike to Laurel Springs was 9.5 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 2,250 feet. There are great views once you get higher on Saddleback Mountain. When you are out on this trail you are very likely to see other people on the trail as it is a very popular hike in Orange County. You can continue on the Harding Truck Trail all the way to the top of the Main Divide Rd, which goes across the ridgeline of the Santa Ana Mountains, but it adds another 5 miles roundtrip to your hike to go to the Main Divide Rd. The trail can be taken all the way to the top of Saddleback Mountain, Santiago Peak (5,687 feet). Taking the Harding Truck Trail to the Top of Saddleback Mountain is not the quickest or shortest way to the top of Saddleback Mounatin. The estimated roundtrip mileage to the top and back from this route is about 25 miles roundtrip. The shortest way to the top of Saddleback Mountain is via the trail in Holy Jim Canyon. One caution, is there is very little shade on this hike to Laurel Springs, so remember to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen if you attempt this hike on a warm day.

Further Thoughts: This trail to Laurel Springs is well maintained by the National Forest Service and the views of Orange County are spectacular. The trail is a steady uphill climb which means that the trip back down the mountain was easy. There is a sign on the Harding Truck Trail that tells you where the turn off is to go to find Laurel Spring. Some recent reports by other hikers via the comment section below have said the sign was missing. You will notice a bright green patch on the side of the Mountain and this is where the spring is located. You can see the green patch in the picture for the directions to trailhead section above.  The spring is located just a little ways off the main trail and there is a dirt path that takes you there. Laurel Springs is very easy to see during the summer time as it is in the area on the side of the hill that is very green. As you climb the Harding Truck Trail, the views of Southern California and Orange County continue to get better. You also begin to have some great views of the Santa Ana Mountains. Remember to bring your camera with you as it is a great trail to take some pictures.

At the trailhead lies the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a 12 acre non-profit nature preserve located in the heart of Modjeska Canyon adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest. Visitors to Tucker’s 1,000 square foot natural history museum will enjoy close-up and personal, preserved specimens of the wildlife that currently inhabit the surrounding area, such as cougars, bobcats, squirrels, eagles, owls, etc., as well as a giant grizzly bear that is remnant of the canyon’s long ago history. Exhibits also include several live examples of the local animal inhabitants of the canyon. Visitors can enjoy Tucker’s small gift shop where they may purchase snacks and or souvenirs to remember their day at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. Just outside the museum, guests are invited to relax and enjoy their lunch in the cool picnic area covered by the canopy of a large native oak tree.

It was a warm day when Ashley and I went on this hike to Laurel Springs in the Cleveland National Forest. We both gave this hike two thumbs up because the views along the trail were great and because of the great workout. Expect to see people hiking on the trail as it is a very popular Orange County hiking trail. Parking is also free. (Sadly this whole section of the Cleveland National Forest was burned by the Santiago Fire in late 2007. The good news is that the Harding Truck Trail reopened to use by hikers in November 14, 2009 as the National Forest Service had shut all trails down in the section for 2 years to allow the area to recover from the fire damage)

Rating: Elevation Gain: 2,250 ft. (Moderate - Strenuous), Distance: 9.5 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate - Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 5 - 6 hours.


  1. How long did this hike take you with a day pack? You have a great blog the only thing I would add is the total time of each hike at a steady pace so that folks can plan accordingly. I am training to do Mt Williamson and Mt Tyndall in early June so I am trying to get in as many warm ups as possible. Thanks for all the info.

  2. Thank you for the suggestion as far as the times, I will start to incorporate those with the posts. As for this hike I would image about 3.5 - 4.5 hours if you are going at a steady pace. Enjoy the hike and good luck with the training!

  3. Thanks for the info Brian keep up the good work. I am doing Bedford Peak today so that should be fun.

  4. My 15 year old daughter and I hiked the Truck Trail yesterday. Unfortunately, upon getting to the trailhead to the Springs, found it overgrown and inaccessible. We went a little ways past that point to the next switchback to get a great view of the El Toro, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo area and then headed back down. Stopping to take photos along the way, we completed the journey in just under 4 hours. Well worth the challenge and time. Thanks to the wet weather earlier this year, it is still very green up there with lots of flowers still in full bloom. Ray T.

  5. Ray, thank you for the feedback, sorry to hear it was so overgrown.

  6. My friend and I hiked this trail yesterday, but never came across the sign to Laurel Springs. Looking at the map afterwards, we went about 1.5 miles further from where the turnoff should have been. Still a beautiful hike nonetheless!

    1. Thank you for the update regarding the missing sign to Laurel Springs.

  7. I've biked up Harding Truck Trail a few times (and made it to Santiago Peak once), and I think the sign went missing after the brush fires just a couple of months after this post.

  8. It's one of the best hike I had. The sign is back now. When we reached the spring, the woody smell around the spring was heavenly.


Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.