Sunday, October 20, 2013

Top of Saddleback Mountain (Santiago Peak)

This past weekend, I had the chance to go to the top of Saddleback Mountain with a buddy from work who wanted to hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain. The fall weather was perfect and at the top of Saddleback Mountain (Santiago Peak) there was visibility for more than 60 miles in all directions. Santiago Peak sits at an elevation of 5,687 feet and is the tallest point in the Santa Ana Mountains. I have hiked to the top of Saddleback Mountain a total of 5 times and it remains one of Orange County's must do hikes. For more pictures of the hike make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: Via the Holy Jim route to the top of Saddleback: From Cooks corner take Live Oak Canyon Road heading toward O'Neil Regional Park. Keep going until you pass Trabuco Creek, after which make a left and head up Trabuco Canyon Road (a bumpy dirt road), if you keep going on Live Oak Canyon Road you will run into the back of Rancho Santa Margarita and have gone too far. You will reach the parking lot and trailhead in approximately 4.5 miles on the dirt road (You will cross Trabuco Creek several times), the trailhead parking area is just past the volunteer fire house. I would recommend a truck with good clearance as some parts of the road are a little rough and I would not use this road anytime after heavy rains. A Forest Adventure Pass is needed to park at the trailhead as it is located in the Cleveland National Forest.

Description of Hike: The trail is 16 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of around 4,000 feet. Santiago Peak is the highest point in Orange County and sits at 5,687ft. It is the best view in all of Orange County. The trail starts out in Holy Jim Canyon. The first mile and a half is in Holy Jim Canyon where there is lots of shade and usually water in the creek. However, once you split off from the trail and head towards the main divide road, at approximately the one mile mark from the official Holy Jim trailhead sign, there is not as much shade available (There is a sign at the split, you make a left to head up to the top of saddleback mountain or a right to go to Holy Jim Falls). Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen as this hike can get deceptively hot, especially during the summer months. The trail is well maintained and most likely when you go you will see someone on the trail. From the split it will be about 4 miles to the main divide road where you make a left and follow the road all the way to the top and enjoy the views. This hike will be about an 8 hour hike for most. It all depends on how long you enjoy the views at the top.

Further Thoughts: This hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain was a great fall hike in Orange County. There were a fair number of people out enjoying the trail and heading to the top of Saddleback Mountain. The canyon part of the Holy Jim Trail is awesome and is a welcomed escape from the urban landscape of Orange County. The canyon is covered in dense woodlands (mostly oak trees) and even in the late fall there was still portions of the stream with puddles of water.  On the way up the mountain, several of the springs also had water in them as well.

During wet years, these springs might be a place to filter water from, however they should be considered unreliable sources of water. Bear Springs is located at an elevation of about 3,900 feet and will be located on the rights side of the trail before you reach the main divide road. During the fall months you will notice a large number of acorns in this area. Bottom-line is it was nice to see all of the green flora that was still there on the mountain. One of the cool things about this hike is seeing the sections of pine forest that exist in the Santa Ana Mountains.

The one neat thing about this hike is that for the majority of the hike you can see your goal, the top of the mountain. The antennas at the top are visible for most of the hike. Once you hit the main divide road and you head up the back side of saddleback, you are rewarded with great views of the Inland Empire. You can clearly see Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy), and Mt San Gorgonio (Which is the tallest mountain in Southern California at 11,501 ft).

On the way up Saddleback Mountain, we saw a lot of trail runners who were participating in a 30 mile race in the back country.  Needless to say these long distance runners were in amazing shape. Once at the top we enjoyed a celebratory lunch taking in the views of Southern California. There are multiple good locations to sit at the top and enjoy the views. It was a beautiful day with great visibility for miles in all directions. The only bad thing about the hike was the large number of bugs at the top (lots of gnats).  Make sure to bring some type of insect repellent. It took us a total of 8 hours to do our hike which included stops along the way as well as a 45 minute lunch at the top of Saddleback Mountain. As always bring your camera as the views are breathtaking and you also have a good chance at seeing wildlife.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 4,000 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 16 Miles Roundtrip (Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 6.5 - 8.5 hours.


October 20, 2013 (This Post)

View Top of Saddleback Mountain Trail Map (Cleveland National Forest) in a larger map

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