Explore the most popular forest trails in Cleveland National Forest with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

hiking
2 days ago

A great hike... nice views and beautiful trees of many varieties. Some of the largest Acorns I’ve ever seen. For sure I’ll do again.

Did this from the Penny Pines trailhead. About 8 miles in total, 4 hours. It was about 89° out, definitely hotter than expected, especially at an altitude where snow falls in the winter. Went through 2L of water easily, should’ve brought 3. Definitely one of the most scenic routes in all of Mount Laguna. I like Garnet Peak a little more because there’s no antennas or buildings, but Monument Peak is definitely a more epic vantage point as it’s a bit higher and more prominent. The sweeping views of the Anza Borrego desert down below are amazing. I look forward to doing this one again in the winter, when the sky is clearer and there’s snow on the ground.

I highly recommend this hike but read the cautions below.
My fiancé and I went in April and had an amazing time. We are a young and fairly active couple and this trail was not extremely difficult but I can see how it’s difficult for others. I recommend to head out first thing in the morning as the afternoon sun is VERY hot and with the dry heat, it becomes unbearable. There’s barely no shade on the trail so when that sun is blazing, you’re completely exposed to the sun and heat. Come prepared with plenty of water and high energy food. We brought eight bottles of water each and went through 6 easily. The trail is a 1 person wide dirt trail with no barriers and minimal markers. I’m scared of heights and the trail made me uncomfortable at times when it was steep and if I fell I felt like it would be to my death of tumbling down the rocky side with minimal to no shrubs to stop my fall. Other areas of the trail were fine. As we got closer to the waterfalls, there was more shade and trees but larger rocks we had to climb over. We got to a point that we weren’t sure if we were on the right track as there wasn’t a distinct trail to follow nor markers, but then we would randomly find a ribbon on a branch.
At the end of the trail are the waterfalls, they are awesome. I would recommend to bring a swimsuit and a towel, freezing water but a great way to cool off. To get to the top waterfall you have to climb the rocks which are smooth and steep and only have a rope to help you up. Bring good gripping shoes and gloves (if you’re hands are on the sensitive side).
CAUTION!!!
So this trail is completely do able, but be SAFE. On our way we ran into a group in which one of the guys broke his leg and since there’s no signal, they had to carry him back to the car (in which there is still no signal in the parking lot and only signal after an hour drive back towards the highway). If you have a radio, I would recommend to bring a radio with you so you can call for help incase. The man broke his leg going down the old trail in which the rope was removed to prevent people from going down, sever accidents will entail if you try this. Do not rush down the ropes at the waterfall, I saw someone loose balance and almost flew into the tree and stones and would’ve broken his back or head if it wasn’t for his friend saving him from falling to his death. Like I said, be safe, go prepared, don’t be stupid, and you’ll survive without any issues.

hiking
13 days ago

This trail is awesome! I hiked it going down from Blue Jay Campground, and stayed on the northern sections which tended to be more shaded. The path is very easy to see and navigate by foot, and I could see a ton of mountain bike tracks in the more rutted areas. I made it all the way down to the hard turn in the clearings south of the Mary Thomas bridge before I turned around and headed back up since it was approaching sunset. I will say that it is much harder to go back up than come down, but not impossible. No climbing necessary. This was my first time ever on this trail, and had never heard of it before camping at Blue Jay, but now I want to go back and do the whole thing!

One thing I will critique though, is that the intersections in the trail are not very well marked. There are some white spray paint markings with arrows along the trail and at the intersection, but they're not in a very easy to understand format. So have your wits about you and make cairns or leave non-permanent markers to show you which way you came if you're doing a shuttle/in-n-out run.

Cool lil trail but as of July 7 it is bone dry.

Hiking boots, 3 liters of water, hat, and snacks are a good idea. You should be prepared doing this hike. It's very hot, lack of shade, loose trail, unstable ground. This is not a place for kids or dogs. The ground is 110 degrees so this could kill your pup. We had to carry a dog off the mountain before. Lots of dogs die hiking in the heat.
This is one of my favorite hikes. The new trail is as a lot easier, but I prefer the original route with the ropes. There is a total of 5 ropes to help you up and down the steep ledges. I bring gloves because it is rough on my hands.

I am just starting to hike and agree it is a moderate hike. Only downside was the heat, can get really hot so make sure you take lots of water and are hydrated before. On our way down to waterfall sun was out so I was pretty drained getting there, but on our way back up sun wasn't as strong and I was able to make it up easily. Took us a little under 2 hours both ways. Good hike overall.

hiking
18 days ago

i love the laguna area. especially this pct stretch up there. no where else in the county you can get the full appreciation of forested green mountain tops, with sweeping panoramic views tailing into the desert. go during a high pressure system because you can see clear across the salton sea to the chocolate mountains east of he city of pope. bring water and food, shelter too because you may not want to come down from there.

off road driving
18 days ago

Nice trail, some steep areas that get a little exciting but mostly fairly tame driving. It’s hot and not a lot of shade but worth the ride for beginners.

March 26th 2018 the waterfalls were flowing and gorgeous everything green and birds are chirping

If you do this hike in the summer, start early, it gets very hot. Best to start by 6 am. Challenging hike but the view at the top is well worth it. Bring plenty of water, I drank almost 4 liters.

Nice tree cover on the earlier sections of the trail. Saw a decent amount of bikers and other hikers passing us in both directions on the trail. View at the top was very nice. Start early because it gets hot!

This was an awesome, but brutal hike!! Bring plenty of water/electrolytes, food/snacks and a bandana for the dust from trucks and motorcycles! I drank plenty of water on the way up but still ended up cramping pretty bad! We hit the trail head at 6:30am and it took us 9 hours! ✔️one off my bucket list! ✌

Don't do this in the heat. Wait until cooler weather. Nearly had a heat incident because i also ran out of water (3L). Two rattlesnake encounters. The views at the peak were meh, but I went for the workout anyway. View of the trail is nice towards the peak tho.

Great wide trail. Absolutely beautiful up in the Pine Tree areas. We were blessed with a cool morning, but not a shaded hike. Moderate hike, took longer than expected, as we did not have any parking at the trail head. Lots of friendly bikers, we missed the very top, but hiked 16 miles. We plan on a Fall Hike to make it. A must see.

6/23/18. Brutal hike for me. Make sure to bring a lot of water. Drank 9 bottles round trip. Pack a bandana to cover your mouth from the dust left behind motorbikes and trucks. Enjoyed the first half. Dirt and very demanding the last half, but I am 67, lol.
Went slow and it took 9 hours, 41,000+ steps!
Hike on a cool day, no shade near the top.
Very inspired when we made it.

backpacking
25 days ago

This review is more about car accessibility, dogs, water availability, and insects (especially bees).

Went on a little backpacking trip from 6/23-6/25/18. It was 80-85 degrees during the day and full sun. I brought my two very fluffy dogs with me and went 3 miles down the hill to the creek. I left the main trail and followed the trail to the left (south, downstream) one mile. One mile downstream there is a large oak perfect for climbing and very shady to set up multiple tents. And alright yes a campfire ring, but please DO NOT start a fire! Also there is a stone dam and tower and small sandy beaches to enjoy. To get there go just beyond the campsite, up and over the rocks. At the top is a lone cactus, at that point head down and walk along the creek to avoid the very steep hill down directly to the dam and tower. I saw 3 hikers total on my entire trip so a very secluded trail!!

There is minimal shade along the first 3 miles till you hit the creek. It is best to complete this portion of the hike before 930-10a. The shade is optimal then as the hill is basically west facing. The first mile or so has partial shade at least every 0.1 miles, then no shade for 1 mile, then spotty shade till the creek. It is gently sloping downhill, but nothing strenuous at all even on the way up. Took me two hours to do the 4 miles to the campsite and just under 2.5 hours back to the car. I did stop whenever the dogs wanted to and for however long they wanted. Walked at a very average pace.

Water- No water until one mile downstream (4 miles total). Currently there are several pools of water varying from 20 feet in length to only a few; they are up to 4 feet deep and are not flowing. Please be conservative and conscientious when using water to avoid washing any sunscreen, bug spray, and dish water into the pools. It is also very easy to mistakenly scoop up tadpoles, frog eggs, and fish! Critters of every size and class are trying to make it in and around there!

Car accessibility- I have a 2005 Hyundai Accent so low clearance and very compact. I did not find the road leading to the trail head to be very bad at all! Took me 50 minutes to go up and down since due to my vehicle I have to be very careful and thoughtful about how I drive up there. Definitely having a narrow car that allows me to use the whole road to avoid bad areas was very helpful and a wider car with similar clearance may have more problems.

Dogs (previous ER/ICU vet nurse here)- Do not attempt this hike if it is above 85 degrees with your dog especially between 10a-2p!! Bring bare minimum 1 liter of water just for each dog (just for this 3 mile portion) and let them have a good rest in every bit of shade and free choice water at all times. After heat, your next biggest enemy is foxtails!! Right now it is peak season and the meadow the oak tree campsite is in is filled with them! Check frequently especially deep in the toes. Dogs have died from going septic from them embedding themselves. They will creep up into the eyes, ears, nose, prepubis, everywhere!! I spent at least 6 hours removing them total. Did pick off a few mostly dog ticks (not a large prevalence of tick borne dz in SoCal), they have 2 month (out of 3 month) old Scalibor collars but they go in the water a lot.

Insects- Yes expect a constant buzz. Once a swarm finds you walking along the creek, you've got new friends. They were tolerable, but certainly disrupt mediation. The mosquitoes are not too bad just annoying flies. Far from ruined the trip for me! I found Honest brand bug spray (mostly essential oils) worked fairly well but needed frequent application. If you care about bees as I do, due to a severe allergy, then its not perfect but it could be worse. I attract bees like crazy! So I still had a few stalkers, but no stings. Wildflowers are currently in bloom the first 0.5 miles and then along the creek where there is water. The ones along the creek seemed basically too pre-occupied to pay me attention. A few got a little interested, but not for long. I felt comfortable knocking into the flowers that crossed the path even if bees were busy working on the bush. The ones to be worried about are the swarms on the little white poms in the first 0.5 mile of the trail. There are just so many bees and I believe close to a hive that they are more protective and I had quite the stalker for a while that made me nervous (...and forget my hiking poles in the car!).

Things I was glad I brought or wished I had:
- Bug spray
- Visor > sunglasses
- Sunscreen
- Chapstick
- Hiking poles- lots of loose gravel and small rocks on the trail that poles help balance and stabilize you
- Comb to help remove foxtails from dogs
- Way to clean water

Things you don't need:
- sleeping pad- quite comfy on the bed of oak leaves, not worth the weight

hiking
26 days ago

Awesome hike. Took my kite with me to fly at the peak. Beautiful location. No shade so hat is recommended.

Beautiful views!

The water at the end of the trail was all dried up which as big bummer. Also- while the trail is easy down along the river, I would say it is more moderate to difficult, especially with young children, because it’s straight down and straight back up out of the valley.

I'm a newbie when it comes to hiking but this is my favorite trail so far. We took the old way to the waterfalls because we thought there would be ropes going down the hill but I guess they took most of the ropes off. We were still able to navigate it though. I really navigating through the rocks and streams but you could tell that few people had gone through the old trail. on the way back we took the newer trail which seemed safer but not as fun. Bring lots of water just in case. it can get hot really fast.

We were very disappointed that there wasn’t any water in the canyon. The hike, albeit short, was very steep for about half a mile and our older Labrador had a tough time getting back up. Only ran into a couple other people all afternoon. If there were water, this hike would be great!

Note: The dirt road that leads to this trail is rough and not suitable for most sedans. Mid to high clearance vehicles are recommended.

This is a beautiful canyon hike with a good amount of shade. It’s pretty busy though, so if you’re not a fan of crowds, come during the week or early on the weekend.

Great hike, do not do this hike on a hot day.

Did the counterclockwise loop, first half is alpine meadows and forest then once you get to the PCT it transitions to desert hills with amazing views of the desert.

Great hike! Make sure to bring lots of water. Definitely use the ropes to climb up to the next waterfall. You will be glad you did!

hiking
1 month ago

We took about an hour hiking up and what a view!! Well worth the walk. It was a bit rocky once the grade began, but nothing onerous. Take plenty of water!

off road driving
1 month ago

Fantastic off road adventure with lots of Geocaches along the route. We took a slightly different path and took a left at Main Divide and went back to Lake Elsinore area. High clearance is a must on this route, and 4x4 is highly recommended. Mostly it's dry but there are a lot of rocks (some medium to large, at least on the route we took) and larger ruts. All in all, it was awesome and had a georgous section through the trees.

backpacking
1 month ago

I just returned from my first backpacking trip and Barker Valley was the perfect choice. I received the recommendation from a friend and it did not disappoint.

Some notes: There was still a couple of feet of water left in the stream. It was hot during the day (95 degrees on the hike back up the 1,000 ft incline) and surprisingly cold at night. The bugs were pretty bad; make sure you bring a citronella candle for camp.

I did this overnight trip alone and the most striking thing about Barker Valley was how away-from-it-all it was. I didn't realize there were places so secluded left in San Diego County; no cell reception and there was no one else out there. It was exactly what I wanted in a backpacking trip.

The best part was seeing the Milky Way in all its glory; I haven't seen it in years.

DO NOT follow the “getting there” directions (do not turn left down chihuahua or go down any dirt road), just keep following the original road all the way down to the fire station, and park at the information center. Trail is on THE SAME SIDE OF THE ROAD as the fire station on the right hand side when facing the building, NOT the side of the road with the info center and PCT sign. Also keep in mind this route approaches the rock formation from behind, so be on the look out for the trail split once you hit 3.2 miles! Be sure to bring plenty of water, direct sun is a killler for 2/3 of the way there/back.

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