Santiago Peak is the highest and most prominent peak in Orange County at 5689ft. The hike to Santiago Peak passes by Holy Jim Falls before taking hikers to a summit covered with microwave and telecom antennas. The summit itself is not much to look at, but the views it provides are pretty spectacular.
Directions And GPS Tracks:
- To hike Santiago Peak via Holy Jim Trail drive to Cleveland National Forest, Holy Jim Canyon Rd, Corona, CA 92883. Getting to the trailhead is half of the adventure on this hike if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle. The final 4.6 miles of this drive is on the dirt Trabuco Creek Rd. I have a 4Runner that handles these roads without a problem, but if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, you’ll have to hike part of the dirt road in which will add a few miles. You also might want a 4×4 if you’re driving this road after a storm as it can get rutted and muddy.
- Download GPX
- See my track on Strava
- Distance: 16.6 miles
- Elevation Gain: 4318 ft
- Minimum Elevation: 1759 ft
- Maximum Elevation: 5689 ft
- Time: 6-9 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash
- Permit Required: No, but Adventure Pass is required to park
- Parking: Parking at trailhead after 6 miles on a dirt road. High clearance vehicles required year round, 4×4 required after rain.
- Season: Year Round
- Trail Condition: Single track, switchbacks, and fire road. The trail is very well maintained, with adequate signage.
- Cell Phone Reception: Poor
Hike Map And Elevation Profile:
Once you’ve finished driving or hiking in on the 4.3 miles of Trabuco Creek Rd, you’ll see the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Dept on your left hand side. Pass the bridge and you’ll find the trailhead and parking lot.
0.0 miles- You’ll see the road fork from the parking area. Take the left fork to begin hiking to the Holy Jim Trail. You’ll pass by a few houses, so be respectful and keep quiet if you start early in the morning.
There are quite a few stream crossings in the early goings of this hike. Trekking poles are very useful when stone hoping over the streams.
0.5 miles- At this point you’ll reach the official entry gate of the Holy Jim Trail and leave the road behind for a nice single track in a wooded area.
1.4 miles- You’ll reach the junction for Holy Jim Falls and Holy Jim Trail towards Santiago Peak and the Main Divide Road. Some people like to hike to Santiago Peak first and then do the falls on the way down. I like to hike to the falls first before they get overrun with crowds in the afternoon. Hiking to the falls adds .4 miles to the overall hike. All of the mileage markers from this point on will include this extra distance.
Go right at the junction to visit Holy Jim Falls.
1.6 miles- You’ll see the small but beautiful Holy Jim Falls. Once you’ve enjoyed the waters, you can return to the junction and take the Holy Jim Trail towards the Main Divide Rd and Santiago Peak.
1.8 miles- Continue on the Holy Jim Trail towards the Main Divide Rd and Santiago Peak.
After heading uphill on the Holy Jim Trail you’ll have two miles of uneventful switchbacks where you’ll climb a little more than 1000ft of elevation.
4.2 miles- The trail heads from west to east and gives hikers views towards the trailhead in the south.
5.3 miles- You’ll reach the end of the Holy Jim Trail and see a junction for the Main Divide Rd Trail. You can go right or left at this junction towards Santiago Peak. Taking a right (east) is far more scenic, but a little more difficult with rutted single track. This is the route I will follow for this guide. On the downhill I followed the opposite side for a smoother and easier downhill hike.
5.7 miles- You’ll leave the Main Divide Rd behind and rejoin the Holy Jim Trail. It is very easy to miss this hairpin junction, so make sure to be alert.
Continue on the Holy Jim Trail towards the summit of Santiago Peak. There are stretches of this single track trail that are deeply rutted with soft gravel in the ruts. It can be easy to twist an ankle on trails like this, so be vigilant with your footing.
At this point in the hike, you’ll have gained enough elevation to start seeing views to the east of Lake Elsinore.
6.7 miles- You’ll leave the Holy Jim Trail behind and rejoin the Main Divide Rd. You’ll see a metal fence in front of you. Walk around the fence to the right and take a left to head uphill towards Santiago Peak. You need to be vigilant at this point in the hike, as this road is used by mountain bikes and off road vehicles.
8.1 miles- You’ll approach and reach the summit of Santiago Peak. The first thing you’ll see are the large antennas blighting the summit views.
It can be a bit difficult to find the actual summit markers due to the number of buildings and other man made obstructions. It’s also a bit difficult to enjoy the 360 degree views that would have been on offer if not for the buildings. Head towards the green structure that you’ll see right away and follow the trail that goes underneath the antennas. On the other side of this, you’ll see the summit markers.
If you continue on past the summit marker, you’ll get to enjoy an unspoiled view east. The eagle scouts have recently installed viewing aids to guide hikers towards Catalina and Los Angeles.
Once you’ve enjoyed enough time at the summit of Santiago Peak, you can return the way you arrived or take the Main Divide Trail option that I mentioned earlier to avoid the rutted single track on the way down.