The San Juan Trail is one of the premier single track trails in Southern California. Many many avid mountain bikers flock to this trail to test their endurance or simply for an amazing downhill ride. Located just inside Orange County, the San Jaun Trail traverses some of the most classic Southern California landscape such as chaparral, dense oak trees, and meadows of bunchgrass. It begins high in the Santa Ana Mountains at around 3,400ft and carves its way down into Hot Springs Canyon at around 800ft. This trail is a huge attraction for endurance mountain bikers and for downhill riders. This trail should only be ridden by experienced mountain bikers though!! There are many, many, many technical (and often very steep) areas. Also, there is quite a bit of exposure in certain areas ranging from 20ft to 100ft. Be careful and know your limits.
This trail is 11.5 miles one way. Many choose to ride up from Hot Springs Canyon to Blue Jay Campground and then back down, making it a 22 mile day. Those less willing to tackle to 2,600ft of elevation gain start at Blue Jay Campground and ride down to Hot Springs Canyon. No matter which way you ride this trail, you wont be disappointed.
Trail Description*Description Starting from Blue Jay Campground down to Hot Springs Canyon*
From the trailhead, you will see a narrow single track leading to the west. Follow this. Right off the bat, you will notice that the trail is pretty rocky. The trail skirts a hillside and often the trail is exposed in sections. Eventually, the trail leaves the hillside and slowly descends into a flat plateau. There are meadows of bunchgrass with plenty of oak trees. In the widest part of the meadow area that the trail traverses, there is a spring called Chiquito Spring. Keep going past this and follow a gently ridgeline towards two peaks.
The trail then skirts around the South Face of Sugarloaf Peak and then drops down to a saddle between a more dramatic and higher unnamed peak. The trail travels south of the unnamed peak and follows a undulating ridgeline downwards. There are many little offshoot trails here, but keep heading down the ridgeline on the most defined trail. The trail gets very steep in this next part as it descends into Hot Springs Canyon. There are quite a few switchbacks with narrow single track areas. Be careful here. This area is covered with scrub oak and is very overgrown due to fact that it is on a north facing slope. Finally, the trail reaches the canyon floor, where it travels along the road for a few and then you reach the Hot Springs Canyon Trailhead.
If you have never ridden this trail, take it easy, don't go all out. There are many sections that are steep and exposed that come up on you without notice. Don't get caught off guard.
When to Bike
You can ride this trail year round, however, in the summer months, temperatures can reach scorching temperatures around or above 100 degrees. Because of this, it is best to ride the trail fall through spring, with early spring and late fall being the best periods for riding.
In some places, there is very little shade. Also, water is scare most of the year. There are a few springs such as Chiquito Spring, however, most are seasonal and won't last very far into summer. BRING PLENTY OF WATER!!!
Know the conditions of the area, extremely hot temperatures that this area succumbs to often causes heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration. No matter how hot it is, there are steps to avoid all three. However, it is simply best not to ride this trail under extreme weather conditions, especially if your ridding if from the bottom up to the top.
Camping is easily accessed at Blue Jay Campground. This campground is located just around the corner from the Blue Jay trailhead for the San Juan Trail, making it ideal for a mountain biker riding the San Juan Trail.
Also, the Upper San Juan Campground is relatively close just off of the Ortega Hwy. Although not near any of the trail heads (it lies almost in the center, but on the Ortega Hwy), it does provide camping if the Blue Jay Campground is full or if you want to be closer to the Hot Springs Canyon Trailhead.
This area undergoes closures for maintenance periodically. North and South Main Divide Road are run by the Cleveland National Forest and can occasionally be close due to weather or maintenance. If they are closed, then you have no way of accessing Long Canyon Road. Hot Springs Canyon Road is never closed. To view current conditions, click HERE.
Also, an Adventure Pass is necessary in order to park in the areas surrounding this trail. You can purchase a $5 day pass or purchase a $30 year pass.
From Lake Elsinore (Riverside County)-
-To the Trailhead at Blue Jay Campground:If your heading North on the 15 Freeway, take a left onto Central Avenue (and a right if your heading South). Take a right on Collier Avenue. Then take a left on Riverside Drive and follow this for a long time (around 4 miles). It turns into Grand Avenue when the road curves around the West shore of Lake Elsinore. Then, take a right onto the Ortega Hwy (Hwy 74) and follow this for 6.5 miles until you reach North Main Divide Road. Take a right here. Keep going and the road turns to the left onto South Main Divide Road. Keep following this until the road veers right onto Long Canyon Road. Follow this all the way up till you crest up on a ridge where there will be parking on the left hand side.
-To the Trailhead in Hot Springs Canyon: Unlike the route mentioned above, keep going straight on the Ortega Hwy for another 9.3 miles. Then, take a right onto Hot Springs Canyon Road (its a dirt road). There is a ranger station just before the turn, so you can't miss it. Then follow this road for a mile. There will be parking in an open area and the trail head will be on the right.
From San Juan Capistrano (Orange County)-
-To the Trailhead at Blue Jay Campground: If your heading North on the 5 Freeway, take a right (if your going South, take a left) onto the Ortega Hwy. Follow the Ortega Hwy for about 21.8 miles and then take a left onto North Main Divide Road.Keep going and the road turns to the left onto South Main Divide Road. Keep following this until the road veers right onto Long Canyon Road. Follow this all the way up till you crest up on a ridge where there will be parking on the left hand side.
-To the Trailhead in Hot Springs Canyon: Do the same as above, however, you are not on the Ortega Hwy as long as you would be for the other route. Instead, go 12.5 miles until you reach Hot Springs Canyon Road (its a dirt road). There is a ranger station just after the turn, so you can't miss it. Take a left and follow this for a mile. The parking will be in an open area and the trailhead will be on the right.
Many will choose to ride this trail both ways- up and down(requiring only one car). However, some people will do this trail as a point to point downhill ride and start at the Blue Jay Campground (leaving a car there) and then leave another car at the Hot Springs Canyon Trailhead. Both trailheads require an Adventure Pass.
Cleveland National Forest- Trabuco Ranger District
Keith Fletcher, District Ranger
1147 East Sixth Street
Corona, CA 92879
Cleveland National Forest Website
Mountain Biking Guide to the Cleveland National Forest
San Juan Trail on MTBR
Weather for the Blue Jay Campground Trailhead
Weather for the Hot Springs Canyon Trail Head