Elsinore Peak (Cleveland National Forest)

Ashley and I recently got a chance to take a quick venture out to hike in the Cleveland National Forest and hike to the top of Elsinore Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains. While only 3,575 feet, Elsinore Peak has tremendous prominence for such a small peak and provides visitors with sweeping views on clear days. Rarely do you find such a short hike, with such amazing views. This is a fun short day hike between Orange County and Riverside County.  The hike to the top of Elsinore Peak truly a mostly unknown gem for hikers to discover.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the trailhead to hike to Elsinore Peak in the Cleveland National Forest, coming from Orange County, take the Ortega Highway (74) going towards Riverside. You are going to stay on the Ortega Highway and make a right onto the South Main Divide Road. The turn off onto the South Main Divide Road is just past the mountain town of El Cariso Village and is just before you begin going down the Ortega Highway to Lake Elsinore. Follow the South Main Divide Road for approximately 6 miles. You should be able to see Elsinore Peak before you get to the trailhead parking area, it is the peak with the radio equipment on top of it. Once the South Main Divide Road narrows into a one lane mountain road, you are roughly a mile from the parking area. There is a gate that prevents entrance to the summit, so it is advisable to park at the bottom and not drive up closer on the pull out to the peak. Note: Sometimes the Forest Service Closes the South Main Divide road due to snow or other weather conditions. If there has been recent snow in the Santa Ana Mountains check with the forest service to inquire about road closures.

Description of Hike: The hike to the top of Elsinor Peak is a fun short day hike to one of the more prominent peaks in the Santa Ana Mountains. Elsinore Peak stands at 3,575 feet and is easily accessible compared to other prominent peaks. This is an out and back trail on an uneven dirt trail/maintenance road. To reach other prominent peaks offering similar views generally requires miles of hiking, while this one is only a mile roundtrip. The hike offers absolutely fabulous views. If you are looking for a more challenging hike, then this is not the one for you. But if you are looking for a short hike with tremendous views of Southern California at the top, this is a great one.

From Elsinore Peak's summit, you can see Mt. Baldy (along with the San Gabriel Mountains), San Gorgonio (along with the San Berardino Mountains), San Jacinto (along with the San Jacinto Mountains), Santiago Peak (along with most of the Santa Ana Mountains), Toro Peak, Hot Springs Mountain, the Palomar MountainsCuyamaca Peak, the Laguna Mountains, the Inland Empire, the Pacific Ocean, San Clemente Island and Catalina Island. Bottom-line is this Southern California Hike offers amazing views from the summit and is well worth the trip.

The one negative to this hike is the radio equipment that is on the summit. Also, since you are in the Cleveland National Forest, you will need to have a Forest Adventure Pass displayed in order to park at the trailhead.

Further Thoughts: The best time to hike to Elsinore Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains is when there is great visibility, like after a rain storm or wind event in Southern California. Ashley and I did this hike the day after a rain storm had come through Southern California, which meant that we had at least 60 miles of visibility in all directions. It was also during a time when it was very cool/cold in Southern California. The temperature when we started the hike at 2:30pm was 42 degrees with 15 - 20mph winds.

The hike to the summit of Elsinore Peak follows a dirt/gravel service road to the top. It is a very easy grade and is a great hike for the whole family to do together. Halfway up the mountain, you start to see amazing landmarks like the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island.  The views only get better the closer you get to the top.

Once you reach the top with the radio equipment, you need to go past the radio antennas to find the true summit of Elsinore Peak. Once there, the views are an amazing sight to see. One point of interest we could see was the Palomar Observatory on top of Palomar Mountain in the Palomar District of the Cleveland National Forest. From the summit, you also get a good view of the sky divers jumping from planes over Lake Elsinore, if you are there when they are sky diving.

You will also notice that there are several side trails that branch out from the main road to the summit of Elsinore Peak. If you want to make the hike longer, you can hike these, but keep in mind the trails do not necessarily lead back to the trail you are on. When you are on the service road/trail to the summit, make sure to watch out for for service vehicles as we did see one when we were going up the road.

Ashley and I were very impressed with this fun short hike in the Cleveland National Forest. For a hike which is not very challenging it sure rewarded us with tremendous views of our local mountains and beyond. Ashley and I hope to come back soon.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 250 ft. (Easy), Distance: 1 Mile Roundtrip (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 30 - 45 minutes.


November 29, 2010 (This Post) 

View Elsinore Peak in a larger map