Perfect 10 mile spring hike near Lake Elsinore, California
A classic hike in the Santa Ana Mountains of Orange and Riverside Counties
I lead somewhat of a double-life, split between both coasts. While I'm at school up in Maine, I have roots in Northern and Southern California which means I'm headed back to the West Coast with every break. The wonderful part of this is that I get to post about local hikes near several cities in the Northeast and the West. So if you're following my quest to climb New England's 50 Finest and 4,000-footers, this will be a brief respite. For my West Coast friends, here's a great place to hike in the spring!

Trailhead Location 
The Chiquito Trail is a well-marked trail running though Cleavland National Forest which preserves the Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County and Riverside County. Despite its proximity to major metropolitan centers, these mountains are usually free of crowds and offer a nice bit of serenity close to home. The trailhead is on the Ortega Highway (State Highway 74) which cuts through the mountains between the counties.

Here is the trail head location on Google Maps. It is located just across the way from Ortega Oaks Campground and Candy Store. Its well marked and there is plenty of parking. If you're in the South Orange County area, you would take the 5 South to San Juan Capistrano and take Highway 74 east. From the Riverside area, you would head south on the 15 to Lake Elsinore and take Highway 74 West. This is an amazing drive with many precipitous ledges. Fortunately there are some turnouts so you can enjoy the scenery!
The first part of the hike is shady
Trail Map

The hike begins by paralleling the highway until you come to the San Juan Falls which is more than likely the only waterfall which will be flowing. This gorge is dramatic and a short distance from the trailhead which is a great way to start! From here, it follows the river down a significant amount of elevation for about a mile. This part is shady and has chaparral and Coastal Oaks with some hints of the inland desert. It feels quintessentially So-Cal which is nice if you've been away for a while!

Just past a mile, you will start seeing several turnoffs which appear to be trails. This section is tricky because not all of the turnoffs will bring you to Chiquito Falls. There is one turnoff that is marked with a forest service sign. This trail will take you into an adjacent canyon which bears in a northwesterly direction. From here, it is roughly 4 miles to the falls.
Look for the turnoff sign.
The hike through the canyon is your last bit of shade for a while. Pay close attention to the trail as it is ambiguous in some sections. Also pay attention to speedy mountain bikers who favor this area for more technical riding.

The trail will soon leave the shade and take you up the canyon walls. This is steep and very exposed to the sun; bring plenty of water! There are only a few sections of shade which make good lunch breaks. After about 3 miles of hiking up this ridge line, you'll come to the top of the ascent and will see the next-door canyon with Chiquito Falls. The next mile to the falls is a nice descent with views of the Ortega Highway and Santiago Peak. At times you can see the waterfall itself. There is a small turnoff from the trail which will take you to the falls.
Southern California Chaparral
A word about Chiquito Falls... it will only be flowing during the spring and only after heavy rains.
Otherwise it is a little trickle of water. Even without the sight of a waterfall, the hike is enjoyable. Its best to visit in the early spring after a large storm. Generally, its too hot to hike in the summer.

Total distance is about 10 miles round trip. There's a significant amount of elevation gain and loss both ways. Also, the trail can be quite rough in some areas; might want to wear a pair of boots or sturdy trail runners. There are no purified water sources on the trail. Lastly, make sure you pay $5 for the Forest Service Adventure Pass- they can ticket you without it!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!