San Juan Loop Trail (Cleveland National Forest)

The San Juan Loop Trail is a fun short hike and is one of the more well known hiking trails in Orange County. On Saturday February 21st, Ashley and I went for a hike in the Cleveland National Forest. We hiked the San Juan Loop Trail, which is a hiking trail right across from the candy store on Ortega Highway. We had received a fair amount of rain during the month of February and we wanted to see how much water was in the creeks and the waterfalls. One of the best times to hike on the San Juan Loop Trail is during a good rainy season is Southern California. There was plenty of water flowing through the creek which made the two waterfalls on the San Juan Loop Trail a great sight to see. For more pictures from another visit to the San Juan Loop Trail, make sure to check out our Facebook Page

Directions to Trailhead: If you are driving to the San Juan Loop trailhead for access to hike the San Juan Loop Trail, heading from Orange County take the Ortega Highway (74) going towards Riverside. The parking lot for the San Juan Loop Trail is located directly across the street from the Ortega Oaks Candy Store located just off of Ortega Highway. A Forest Adventure Pass is needed to park at the San Juan Loop Trailhead. An Adventure Pass can be purchased across the street at the Ortega Oaks Candy Store.

Description of the HikeThe San Juan Loop Trail is a 2.2 mile loop with a 350 foot elevation gain. The hiking trail is well maintained and on weekends there are always other hikers out enjoying this hiking trail in the Cleveland National Forest. This trail goes through riparian habitat and is a great place to visit anytime after it rains in Southern California. Portions of the trail are exposed with little shade. However when near the San Juan Creek bed there are plenty of Coastal Oak trees to provide shade for hikers. There are two beautiful waterfalls on this hike between Orange County and Riverside County. The two waterfalls on this hike are about 5 minutes away from the north trailhead. The San Juan Loop Trail is a perfect hike to do with the whole family as it is not to strenuous.

Further ThoughtsThe last time Ashley and I had hiked the San Juan Loop Trail was during the previous summer. It was a totally different picture this time since this area around the San Juan Loop Trail comes alive during the rainy season in Southern California. There was a lot of water in the San Juan Creek as well as the other creeks that fed into the San Juan Creek. It was nice to get away and see how green everything in the Santa Ana Mountains had become. As Ashley and I walked along, the San Juan Creek we could hear frogs enjoying the rushing water (Video Below). It is always amazing to see the quick transformation of our local hiking areas from brown to green after we begin to receive rain in Southern California.

The San Juan Loop Trail is about 2.2 miles long and is a great excursion in the Cleveland National Forest for those who can only get away for a short period of time. You can make this Orange County hike longer if you would like by exploring the Chaquito Trail which intersects the San Juan Loop Trail. The San Juan Loop Trail is perfect hike for beginning hikers and is additionally enjoyable for any seasoned hiker as well. Always be on the look out for wildlife visiting the San Juan Creek for water, you are out hiking the San Juan Loop Trail.

Another benefit of this hike is the close proximity to the Ortega Oaks Candy Store off of Ortega Highway. Ashley and I have always have enjoyed a little snack whenever we do a hike in this area around the Ortega Oaks Candy Store. Normally there are a lot of hikers (particularly families) on the San Juan Loop Trail, especially on the weekends, because of its short distance. The views the trail offers are amazing. You get great views of the Santa Ana Mountains and the valley the San Juan Creek has carved into the mountain. This is a great little hike especially when there is enough water to enjoy the two waterfalls. Bottom-line is the San Juan Loop Trail makes for some great hiking in Orange County and Riverside County.

Rating: Elevation Gain 350 ft. (Easy), Distance: 2.2 Miles Roundtrip (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 1 - 2 hours.


June 14, 2008 (Plus Chaquito Trail)

Feburary 21, 2009 (This Post)

May 16, 2011

View San Juan Loop Trail in a larger map


  1. My wife and I took this trail 2/4/11. We wanted to preview it for my 10-yr. old Webelos Cub Scouts next week. Great little hike; my 6-yr. old son should have no problem. Lot's of water, waterfalls were great! One sad note: The Candy Store will be closing down 2/28/11. The lady who runs the store can't afford the $2,000 a month lease. So we'll have to wait for the owner to find someone else willing pay and re-open.

  2. Darby, Thanks for the comment. That is sad to hear that the Candy Store will be closing this month. That truly is a loss. I know many hikers that have enjoyed stopping at the store after a long hike.

  3. My family and I hiked this today, after a rain just last night. That's likely why we saw few people on the trail. Not very muddy which was quite a surprise. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. We have 3 girls (4yrs, 8yrs, and 11yrs). All of them really enjoyed the hike. The two little sandy beaches were a pleasant surprise and the older ones really liked climbing the bolders near the end of the trail. Just the right length and difficulty for young ones. As a side note, the Candy Store is again open for business (new owner).

  4. Did the candy store end up closing?? I love that place! If so - where can we buy the day pass?

  5. Sara, the Candy Store has reopened under new management. You can still purchase a day pass there. They even have a facebook page now


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