OverviewThe Los Pinos Trail is a strenuous, 1 day trip beginning down at the Ortega Highway in San Juan Canyon at about 1500' and travels all the way up to the summit of Los Pinos Peak at 4510' before finally reaching the Main Divide Road. Unless you're one of those tough, full of energy type person, expect this to be a hike-a-bike as much of the way (up) is quite steep.
Much of the trail is completely exposed with only few exceptions. Bring sunscreen!
Near the bottom, there's quite a bit of loose rock and cobblestones. The loose rocks sticks around as you get higher up. From there begins the series of endless steep hills one after another before finally topping off at the 4510' summit of Los Pinos. From there, it drops down to a dangerously narrow saddle and ascends a another peak 10' lower than the first before dropping down a steep slope of more loose rock and ends up alongside the the Holy Jim Trail at the Main Divide Road.
And also, a $5/day pass is required for day parking and may be obtained at various ranger stations in the area.
Getting ThereLazy W. Ranch
In the winter, Main Divide Road is closed (to cars) so this would be the only option of biking it then (not that you would want to...).
From San Juan Capistrano, take the Ortega Highway (CA-74) east (up) into Cleveland National Forest. Upon entry into the forest, begin looking for a small side road to the left that goes by the name of Hot Springs Canyon Rd. Take this road through the Lazy M. Ranch (private). In about a mile or so, the road should come across the trailhead on the left. (NOT the "No tresspassing" one if that's still there)
Just make sure it's narrow, overgrown, steep and starts with a bunch of switchbacks and you'll be fine.
Holy Jim Trail
This option is closed in winter (unless you want to bike up either the Main Divide Road or the Holy Jim Trail). Also, make sure your car has the ability to ascend steep slopes before continuing.
From Lake Elsinore, take the Ortega Highway (CA-74) up (west) into the Elsinore Mountains. Immediatly after reaching the saddle ("Pass: Elevation - 2666'"), Turn right onto the North Main Divide Road (paved, not the El Cariso Truck Tr!). This climbs up past some homes and becomes unpaved at a gate. At this point, it gets steep and continues climbing up to about 4000' where you'll find a parking lot. The trailhead is NOT the scree slope!
Instead, take the Holy Jim Trail down about 5 feet at which point, bear left for the signed Los Pinos Trail.
When to BikeUnless you are absolutly comfortable biking in MUD, just forget about winter. In summer, much of the trail may reach temperatures of up to 110 degrees making this a bad time as well. Besides, there's almost always a thunderstorm this time of year going off within 100 miles.
Spring and autumn are the best times to do this trail. In spring, right after the winter rains but with time to dry, loose track is minimized. This (and winter) is the only time these mountains are green.
Autumn is great for those who love photography (like me!). Colors are brilliant near the peak with oranges, reds, and golds stretching as far as the eye can see. It's also an excellent time to get smoked out by a wildfire. Beware!