by Don Kindred
While San Clemente is far more famous for its beaches and ocean-view golf courses, we are also home to a network of hiking trails that can rival any coastal city. Uniquely situated with wildlife reserves on two sides, the ridgeline trails provide spectacular views in all directions. Deer, coyote and bobcats are common along the trails and as well as a full array of bird life.
There are four trails in the network, which includes the regional trails of Prima Decheca and Cristianitos, which are maintained by the county.
The San Clemente Trails we’re spotlighting are the Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail and the Forster Ranch Ridgeline Trail.
All the trail are nicely mapped on the city’s website: san-clemente.org, Look under “Recreation”, then “Trails”.
Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail
is a three and a half mile path for pedestrians, bicycles and dogs on leash. It has wide angle views of the coastline from Dana Point Headlands to the San Diego County beaches, along with broad vistas of inland hills, valleys and mountains in three counties.
Trail surface is mostly asphalt, with some natural soil portions; it has several steep grades, but the majority is easy, long grades. There are six trail entrances: three are walk-in only and three entrances have parking nearby. Click Here for Detail Map
Directions from I-5: Take the Ave. Presidio exit right, two blocks to Ave. Presidio (yes, the same street name) right and up the hill to Salvador, turn right to the top of the hill; the trail entrance is on the left, park on the street. If you start going down hill and see a great ocean view, you’ve gone to far.
The Forster Ranch Ridgeline Trail
follows the crest of the hills on the South and East of the Forster Ranch development for a total length of 3.2 miles. Staying true to the ridgeline means this trail has a number of steep sections so be prepared. It’s all natural surface is surrounded mostly by open space but there is fencing on about 1/3 of the trail. Since this ridgeline trail splits the center of San Clemente it provides outstanding views looking down San Clemente’s backcountry developments and the ocean beyond. The East side of the trail is adjacent to the Mission Viejo land conservancy with its native coastal chaparral wild land. Of special interest are three designated view points with monuments, each uniquely designed to enhance the trail experience. In the future this trail will extend Northward and connect with the San Juan Regional trail complex which ties together most of the South County Ridgelines. There are many entrances to this trail but one of the best starts near the top near a few of the best view points. From I-5 exit at Camino de los Mares and head inland about 4 miles. Right on Camino Vera Cruz up past the school to the top of the hill. Continue to bear to the left at the fork. A few hundred yards later you will see the trailspur to the right.