Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tenaja Trailhead to Fisherman's Camp (Cleveland National Forest)

Tenaja Trailhead to Fisherman's Camp is a great day hike deep into the heart of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness located in the Cleveland National Forest. This hike journeys through a remote location deep in the heart of the Cleveland National Forest's Santa Ana Mountains and is a great hike for any Orange County hiker as it offers great views of the canyons and the scenery in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.

Directions to Trailhead: To reach the Tenaja Trailhead to hike to Fisherman's Camp in the Cleveland National Forest, go west on Clinton Keith Road from I-15. Turn north (right) to Tenaja Road, then right on Rancho California Road (FS 7S01) for .8 miles to Tenaja Trailhead. Vaulted restrooms and water are available at the Tenaja Trailhead. The trail heads north, ending at Four Corners (which is an option for through hiking with an exit from the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness via Bear Canyon Loop Trail to Ortega Highway). A Forest Adventure Pass is needed to park at the trailhead. There is plenty of parking available at the Tenaja Trailhead for the hike to Fisherman's Camp.

Description of Hike: The Tenaja Trail is approximately 9.5 miles long and ends at the 4 corners area in the San Mateo Wilderness. Fisherman's camp is only 3.5 miles from the trailhead and is a great location to hike to utilizing the Tenaja Trail. The roundtrip hike to fisherman's camp and back using the Tenaja Trail is 7 miles, with an elevation change of 900 feet. This is an out and back hike on an uneven dirt hiking trail. The Tenaja Trail follows a canyon the whole way to Fisherman's Camp in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness. There are at times great views of the surrounding mountains and foothills along this hike. This hike on the Tenaja Trail to Fisherman's Camp has a truly secluded feel to it. When we were out on this hike we only saw one other group on the Tenaja Trail and that was when we were almost back to our car. When going on this hike prepare to possibly be the only hikers on the trail.

Further Thoughts: This is a great hike for any Southern California hiker. At roughly 7 miles roundtrip it is also a great work out for those wanting to explore the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness. The Tenaja Trail had a lot of shade coverage from the huge Coastal Live Oak Trees and Sycamore Trees that are very prevalent along the length of the Tenaja Trail to Fisherman's Camp. The bugs were not too bad on our hike, but make sure to bring bug spray, just in-case.

There are huge boulders along portions of the Tenaja Trail which are pretty neat to look at as well as climb. This section of the Cleveland National Forest definitely contains rugged terrain. The dried up stream bed (which still had water in a couple of spots in the middle of summer) compiled with large boulders makes for a great place to sit and enjoy a nice lunch with only the quiet sounds of nature surrounding you. During the rainy season in Southern California expect the creek near the Tenaja Trail to be flowing with water.

This was a warm hike and it was also slightly humid when we hiked to Fisherman's Camp. There had recently been thunderstorms in the desert and local mountains and we could see the tops of a couple thunderstorms while we were hiking on the Tenaja Trail to Fisherman's Camp. The trail going to Fisherman's Camp is downhill the majority of the way, but going back, make sure you are prepared for some uphill! It is well shaded, but you do work up a good sweat with the different levels of elevation. Poison oak is VERY prominent here, more so than on other hikes we've done. Some areas of the Tenaja Trail are not as well maintained, so the poison oak had grown on the trail in a couple of spots.

The San Mateo Canyon Wilderness is a beautiful "country" style setting. The drive to get to the trailhead is amazing with lavish ranch properties.

It's a relaxing setting and a nice day hike to chill out and have a different change of scenery.

****Note, the trailhead can be a little difficult to find so drive slowly or you will miss the driveway to turn into the road leading to the trailhead

Rating: Elevation Gain: 900 ft. (Easy - Moderate), Distance: 7 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 3 - 4 hours.


  1. You weren't kidding about the poison oak! It's totally out of control here, and the trail is VERY overgrown right now. Hiked May 2, 2010; would not do this hike again until they clear it again. Would be awesome except for that.

  2. Would you recommend backpack camping at Fisherman's camp? I've got a group of about 15-20 Scouts looking for a destination. Is Oak Flats a better destination?

  3. It is a great place to camp. The last time we were there, we noticed several good camping areas. We have also had other emails from scout leaders that have camped out there with their scouts and enjoyed it. We did get some comments that the trail is a little overgrown, which hopefully has been remedied. Unfortunately, we have not been to the Oak Flats area in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness and cannot provide a comparison of the two locations for you.

  4. I did this hike this past Sunday and while it is definitely overgrown, it was a great hike. Even with the amount of rain we got on Saturday the trail itself was not too wet but since the plants were so over grown we were soaked by the time we reached Fisherman's Camp. It was amazing the amount of salamanders (newts?) that you had to watch your step for. We saw dozens of them.
    This was my first hike in the San Mateo Wilderness and definitely will not be my last. Time for some more exploring in the area.


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.