In the Loop

image In the Cleveland National Forest

Today we hit the trail and revisit one of our favorite hikes from last year, the San Juan Loop off the Ortega Highway. It’s not a long trail, only 2.2 miles, but it’s a scenic circle that overlooks the Highway, descends into a green valley, and then winds back up again.

We begin ascending a rocky terrain with views of the surrounding mountains.


A few steps further, the Ortega Highway comes into view.


And it gets tricky navigating the rocks.


Notice the mountain bike tire tracks in the picture above. Two guys blow by us as we scurry to step aside and find some footing on the rocks. Correction… one biker seamlessly flies down the trail, while the other hesitates, bounces along and keeps saying, “Holy Cow!”

Up we go as the path narrows. We try to hug the mountain to our left while looking straight down the side of the mountain to our right. Below, the sun reflects the sky, coloring  a pool of water bright blue.


Water and rocks? Jeff stops at a viewpoint railing to throw rocks into the water. (He claims he is determining how deep the pools are!)



What goes up quickly begins to descend gradually. I stop and capture the beauty of the present moment.




Then the terrain becomes less rugged, more lush, and greener. We walk under the canopy of large trees as we approach the valley.



The sun highlights a rocky cliff above.


As we loop our way back, the Ortega Highway peeks through the trees.


After crossing through a campground, closed for the season, I am captivated by some rock formations



and the red berries on this tree.


It’s amazing how much more I noticed on the hike this time. But the best part is that Jeff’s bum leg didn’t give out on him, bolstering his confidence and reassuring him that he is healing.

The Shoe Story Part One


To the west of us lies the 28 mile stretch of CA State Route 74 called the Ortega Highway, linking Lake Elsinore to San Juan Capistrano crossing from Riverside County into Orange County and passing through the Santa Ana Mountains.

Mountains = Trail Heads = Hiking = Dogs = Family Outing

Fifteen minutes away from us is the San Juan Loop Trail off the Ortega Highway in the Cleveland National Forest. The important word here is NATIONAL because that means FREE to folks my age young with our “America the Beautiful Senior Pass.” National Parks, National Forests, National Anything means we don’t have to pay to enter and enjoy. Now, State Parks are another matter altogether…

senior pass

So, in the middle of November on a warm and sunny day, Jeff and head out with the dogs to explore and hike the San Juan Loop Trail which is about 2 miles long. Casey and Murph should be able to endure this adventure to its completion and then collapse into long naps afterward.

Jeff wears his hiking boots and I have on my most comfortable Nike walking shoes ever,


in which I traversed through Italy and most recently wore on my 5 mile daily hikes in Ohio. Besides, look at this trail…


But look at the slopes beside us…



And you guessed it,  somewhat flat and sandy paths begin ascending and descending into rocky footholds that challenge the support and treads of my favorite walking shoes! I eventually slip and scraped my knee and begin fearing the most benign challenges…



However, this does not deter me from savoring the scenic splendor of this trail! Thus, I digress about my shoes to share with you some of my favorite views of our hike.







With the proper foot attire, the S. J. Loop is an easy to moderate hike overlooking the San Juan River and Falls and looping around the San Juan Campground. It passes through portions of open trail, old oak tree covered sections and creek beds.  We did not see the river or falls, however, due to the severe California drought. What we did see were QR codes posted throughout like some sort of scavenger hunt or game for kids. Later I found out that they are part of the Agents of Nature mobile game to encourage movement and learning about nature, culture, science, and technology in a unique fun way.

(The Chiquito Trail is a 9.2 miles out and back trek connecting the San Juan Loop and the Viejo Tie trails. According to the web site, Chiquito is rated as a difficult to strenuous hike through canyons of oak and maple offering panoramic views of Orange and Riverside counties and during wet years 2 beautiful waterfalls.)

As predicted, our dogs are tired and thirsty after their hike. They take turns lapping up a bowl of water before lethargically jumping into the back of the car for the return ride home. My knee finally stops bleeding and Jeff smugly suggests I seriously get some hiking boots which I will. Besides, I need to go back to play the QR code game!