Directions to Trailhead: To get to the trailhead to hike to Los Pinos Peak via the Main Divide Road, coming from Orange County, take the Ortega Highway heading towards Riverside. You will continue on Ortega Highway (approximately 21 miles) until you come to the (North) Main Divide Road, where you will make a left. The turn off is just past the mountain town of El Cariso Village or just after the Cleveland National Forest Visitor Center. If you miss the turn, you will beginning heading down the Ortega Highway to Lake Elsinore and need to make a U-turn. Once you make the left turn, stay on the paved section of the North Main Divide Road. This road, which is a single lane at points, winds around up the side of the Santa Ana Mountains for a little bit and will eventually come to a fork in the road where a left goes to Blue Jay campground and a right will lead you to the section of the North Main Divide Road where the gate is usually closed. This is the trailhead location where you can park. A Forest Adventure Pass is needed for Parking.
Sometimes the gate at the fork in the road will be open to allow vehicles deeper into the Santa Ana Mountain's main divide road (Expect the gate to be closed for a while after any rain/snow or during high fire conditions). You can shorten the hike if you like by 3 miles by driving carefully up the uneven single lane dirt road until you reach a section where it begins to flatten out which has a flat area for parking. If the gate is open and you decide to continue up, keep in mind that this section on the road is a single lane road and is all dirt. I would recommend a vehicle with some clearance if you decide to go further up the road as it does have some rough patches. A car might be fine as well, but personally I would play it safe with a vehicle that has clearance and possibly four wheel drive.
Description of Hike: The trail was well maintained when we did this hike to Los Pinos Peak in the Cleveland National Forest. This out and back hike is also the shortest rout to the top of the 4,510 foot Los Pinos Peak. The main divide road from the fork up, is pretty steep. If the gate is open, make sure to be on the lookout for any vehicles on the road if you are hiking. You will follow the main divide road up until the Los Pinos Saddle, where the trail flattens a little bit. There are also a number of posts in this section and an area that looks like there is parking. The picture for this paragraph is where the main divide road flattens out and you will make a left onto the Los Pinos Trail. The Los Pinos trail has a marker and is close to the intersection with the Trabuco Trail which heads down into Trabuco Canyon, make sure you take the Los Pinos Trail which heads up. After turning onto the Los Pinos trail, you have a section of uphill hiking to the false summit before Los Pinos Peak. You will have to follow the ridge-line trail down the backside of the false summit and then back up the actual peak, which has a summit registry and a US Geological Survey marker.
Further Thoughts: This was an amazing hike in the snow on our local Santa Ana Mountains. Ashley and I had not planned on going hiking this day, but after seeing the snow on the Santa Ana Mountains we both decided to go hiking and Ashley's mom joined us for the hike. The snow level was down to around 3,000 feet the night before the hike, with most of the good snow being above the 4,000 foot mark, where they got 3 - 4 inches of snow. The peaks above 5,000 feet probably got about 6 inches of snow possibly more in certain locations.
We had a great time hiking in the fresh powder that had fallen the night before and we only saw a couple of other hikers out in the area that had the same idea as we did. The temperatures when we were hiking were about 40 degrees, with a significant wind chill that developed during the hike due to increasing winds. The trail offers amazing views of Orange County, the Inland Empire, Mt. San Gorgonio, Mt. San Jacinto, the Pacific Ocean, and much more. At the Summit of Los Pinos, it is a true top of the world experience and is a must do day hike near Orange County.
Once you reach an elevation above 4,000 feet you begin to have a lot more pine trees in the Santa Ana Mountains. It is always amazing to see the change in the flora of the area. During the summer time, make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and bring plenty of water, as this section of the main divide road offers very little shade. Once you reach the Los Pinos Trail there is a little more shade in sections due to the prevalence of pine trees on the north facing slopes of the higher sections of the Santa Ana Mountains.
Rating: Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet (Moderate), Distance: 5.2 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate). From the shortened version: Elevation Gain: 420 feet (Easy), Distance: 1.9 Miles Roundtrip (Easy)
Time to Complete Hike: 2 - 3 hours. Shortened Version: 1 - 1.5 hours.
MORE TRAIL WRITE-UPS ON LOS PINOS PEAK
Los Pinos Peak Via Main Divide Road (This Post)
View Los Pinos Hike Via Main Divide in a larger map