Los Pinos Peak via the Los Pinos Trail (Cleveland National Forest)

Los Pinos Peak, via the Los Pinos Trail, is one of the more strenuous hiking trails in Orange County and is located deep in the heart of the Cleveland National Forest's Santa Ana Mountains. Ashley and I used this hike as a training hike to get us ready/in shape to hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain. We both decided on hiking from the Los Pinos Trailhead to Los Pinos peak as opposed to the Main divide trailhead, because of the length of the trail. The hike to Los Pinos Peak, via the Los Pinos Trail, is a ridge-line hike that offers great views and an even better workout. Note, this is a strenuous hike as there is little shade on the entire trail. For more pictures make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: To hike to Los Pinos Peak using the Los Pinos Trail, going from Orange County you will go east on the Ortega Highway (74). You want to go past Caspers Wilderness Park. You will come across the San Juan Fire Station on your left hand side and you want to make a left into the road there. If you pass the fire station and start going up Ortega Highway into the Santa Ana Mountains you have gone too far. The Los Pinos Trailhead is up ahead about a mile or so from the fire station. You will need a Forest Adventure Pass to park there. You will also need the permission of the Lazy W. Ranch Camp to cross their property to get to the start of the trail.

Description of Hike: The hike from the trailhead to the peak and back is a little over 16 miles roundtrip and is one of the more strenuous hiking trails in Orange County. The condition of the trail were mixed when we went. Some portions of the trail were well maintained, however several sections were overgrown when we hiked the Los Pinos Trail to Los Pinos Peak. There is very little shade along the entire length of the Los Pinos Trail, so make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen on this hike and wear a hat. The Los Pinos Trail does not appear to be heavily used from this trailhead do to the strenuous nature of the hike, so if you undertake this hike be prepared to be the only one out on the trail (We were the only ones when we went). The hike to Los Pinos Peak via the Los Pinos Trail also gains about 3,300 feet in elevation gain. The height of Los Pinos Peak is 4,510ft as it is the 4th tallest peak in the Santa Ana Mountains.

Further Thoughts: This hike is not for the novice hiker, since the trail is 8.2 miles long one way and it is one of the more strenuous hiking trails in Orange County. It was also not maintained vary well in a couple of sections (The trail has hopefully received maintenance since the last time we were there). The hike is accompanied by an elevation gain of 3,300 ft. It is a ridge-line trail and has a couple of steep sections (A lot of elevation change). It is definitely a great workout hike/training hike if you are training for some of the taller peaks in Southern California, such as Saddleback Mountain or Mt. San Gorgonio.

We started hiking the Los Pinos Trail to Los Pinos Peak around 9:30am. The hike started out good, but had some steep elevation gain right off the bat. The first part of the trail was nice, since it was maintained near the Lazy W. Ranch property. But after that first mile or so, the trail was not maintained very well in a couple of sections. Ashley and I were glad we brought plenty of water as there was limited shade.

When we went on this hike, the bugs were very aggressive on this trail. There were much more bugs/flies than we had encountered on any of our previous hike. I would recommend bringing bug spray on this hike, in case you encounter the same amount of bugs that we did.

Once we ascended the first several ridge lines we could start to see the back side of Coto De Caza, Rancho Santa Margarita, and much of Orange County. From this point on the views got even better. Additionally, we could even see some of the pine forests that are in Orange County's local Santa Ana Mountains. The Pine Forests in the Santa Ana Mountains generally start at about the 4,000 ft. level in this section of the Santa Ana Mountains. 

We got down to the car at about 5:45pm after our hike to Los Pinos Peak. It was a long day, but in retrospect it did get us both ready for Hiking Saddleback Mountain the following weekend. We would recommend this hike to hikers who really want a strenuous hike and are looking to train for bigger hikes in Southern California. It is a great training hike and does offer great views of the surrounding mountains and the Cleveland National Forest.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 3,300 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 16.4 Miles Roundtrip (Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 6 - 8 hours.


Los Pinos Peak Via Start of Los Pinos Trail (This Post)

View Los Pinos Trail in a larger map


  1. Great Hike. Did it in the summer of 2010. Thanks for putting up this blog.

  2. I highly recommend parking a car at Blue Jay Campground, then drive with a friend to the San Juan Trailhead. This is too long for an out and back hike. Use two cars to make it one way.

    1. Thanks for the comment, we have a shorter option posted for the hike to Los Pinos. As an out and back hike the Los Pinos Trail to Los Pinos Peak is a great, albeit strenuous, training hike for other longer peaks!

  3. I'm thinking of doing this hike next week. How far is the drive coming from central Orange County?

  4. Bring plenty of water on this hike. I came close to develpoing heat stroke on this trail. Thank God for my Brother who got me through it.


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