West Horsethief Trail is a 10.1 kilometer 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 best used from September until May. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

Distance: 10.1 km Elevation Gain: 652 m Route Type: Out & Back

dog friendly


mountain biking



wild flowers


West Horsethief Trail starts 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 so 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 chaparral 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. 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. 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.

Fri Mar 30 2018

Hard, but worth the views!

Mon Jan 22 2018

Beautiful hike through gorgeous forest land. Begins rather flat through a wooded area with oaks and scrub. Lots of shade intially. Then you go past a running creek and eventually get to the climb. It’s switchbacks and more exposed as you climb to the top. The end of the trail is on a very open main divide road-you will see cars, motorcycles, and mountain bikers on the road. There were a few people on the trail today and we saw a group of mountain bikers, but compared to Holy Jim, this hike was far more peaceful. You’ll get to see Newport Coast and the ocean from the trail. Once at the top, you’ll also get to see the Sam Bernardino mountains-they were covered in snow today. Really an enjoyable hike. It took us about 2 hours to reach Main Divide Rd. We walked a bit of the road and then had lunch. Our climb down took just over an hour. Total trip was 4h and 8 miles.

Thu Jun 29 2017

I've done this hike three times, once in spring and twice in summer. Beautiful! Particularly so, in spring after a bit of rain. The first leg of the hike is quite easy, with many stretches of total tree cover. It stays really lush in some areas, even into the summer. I've kept left at the fork all three times, so I can't speak to the longer (Trabuco) route. I'm told it adds around another mile (each way) to your hike. Once you start up the switchbacks, it gets fairly steep, lots of gravel/sand. If you hike often, it shouldn't be too difficult. Morning will still afford you a lot of shade, despite there being no further tree cover. The altitude does bother some. Don't hike this in running shoes!!! You need good hiking/trail shoes with grip/tread. You WILL slip repeatedly coming down if not!!! The view at the top of Trabuco Peak is gorgeous, and unobstructed. You can continue on to main divide road from there. It's a great hike, and a good little prep if you're thinking of doing Santiago or Modjeska Peak. PARKING: You can park at the big lot for Holy Jim/Santiago, or you can continue to drive straight back. This takes you right to WHT trail head. If you park at the big lot, your trek will be about 10 miles total. If you park at the WHT trail head, it's btwn 7-8 miles total. Adventure pass required.

Sat Dec 10 2016

Start early and often. Heavy Man Bike use so keep eyes up the trail

Tue Sep 27 2016

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.

Tue Nov 10 2015

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!

Thu Jan 30 2014

See description. Bring water. Have fun! (Watch out for the occassional biker, motorcycle and car on the ridge road.)

3 months ago

Wed Apr 04 2018

Thu Nov 23 2017

Sat Sep 16 2017

Sun Sep 10 2017

Sat May 27 2017