West Horsethief Trail is a 6.6 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Trabuco Canyon, California that features a river and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and mountain biking and is accessible from September until May. Dogs are also able to use this trail.
West Horsethief trail start at the West Horsethief and Trabuco Trailhead located 1/2 mile past the Holy Jim falls parking. The drive to the trailhead is high clearance or 4 WD only. The trail follows the valley floor then switchbacks up to a ridge with beautiful Coulter Pines then returns. There are many options with this trail and the listed distance and elevation is based on the route from the parking lot to the ridge and back. The upper parts of the trail are very exposed, and I did this hike in January. Bring lots of water. The trail follows the creek through Trabuco Canyon for approximately 1.7 miles before hitting the junction of West Horsethief and Trabuco Trail. Take the left trail which then begins to switchback steeply up the hill to the ridge for a total distance of 3 and 1/4 miles. As it ascends the hill the vegetation becomes dense chapparal on either side of the trail until the trail tops out in a grove of endangered Coulter Pines. Coulter Pines are famous for having the heaviest pine cones in the world, and they're equipped with spikes that curl up to 1 inch long. Ouch! At the top, the ground is covered with clean decomposed granite and it's a nice place to site an soak up some sun. If you return from here the total distance is 6.5 miles. The trail then reaches the main divide rode for the Santa Ana mountain. At the top, the ground is covered with clean decomposed granite. It's worth continuing the hike another 1/2 mile to right in order to get the view of the east side of the Santa Ana mountains. One can see Mt. Baldy, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, as well as Lake Perris, Lake Elsinore and Lake Hemet from the top. If instead you go left upon reaching the Main Divide Road, you can continue along the main divide road for 1.4 miles to reach the summit of Trabuco Peak at 1.4 miles which is distinguished with a couple lonely pines on top (one lightning blasted.). The spur trail to the top is clear, seeming to run straight up the hill on the far side of a locked gate to the right of the trail. Return from here and your total distance will be 10 miles. A popular alternative is to go right from the Main Divide/Horsethief junction to the top of the Trabuco Trail passed earlier and the make a loop back down to the junction with the Horsethief trail. Haven't done this one, but my wife couldn't find it and others have said it's hard to find. I'll be trying this again with my GPS as it looks like fun with less switchbacks and more ridge elements.
Start early and often. Heavy Man Bike use so keep eyes up the trail
Awesome trail. We did it on a warm day but surprised that it stayed pretty cool. The switchbacks are mostly shady in the morning. The upper ridge smells of fresh pine and while is in the sun, had a nice breeze. At the top, we took Main Divide east to the Trabuco Canyon Loop back down. All in all was 10 miles or so. Great trail in good shape. Can't wait to go out again and see the fall colors.
Great trail!! Travels along the canyon for about 2 miles before getting to the switchbacks that leads you to the Main Divide Road. Tackled it in the morning before the sun beat down on the switchbacks so it was pleasantly cool. We connected to the Trabuca Canyon Trail via the Main Divide for the 10 mile loop! Would do it again!
See description. Bring water. Have fun!
(Watch out for the occassional biker, motorcycle and car on the ridge road.)