A Guide to San Clemente’s Best Hikes
May 19, 2016 01:10PM
By Molly Brooks
Sea Summit Trail
by Molly Brooks
The weather’s getting warmer, so it’s time to get outside! Hiking is a great way to de-stress from our hectic city lives and get closer to nature. We are lucky that San Clemente offers a variety of trails for all skill levels, making the activity accessible for everyone. Each trail is unique in its terrain, offers different challenges and has stellar views.
Looking for a relaxing walk by the beach? Stroll the San Clemente Beach Trail at sunset. Trying to get in your daily cardio? Do stair repeats along the Sea Summit Trails or hike up-hill along the South Cristianitos Trail. All you need to do is lace up your sneakers, grab your pup or a close friend and get hiking!
Cristianitos North and South Trails
.7 miles/2.8 miles - Moderate
If you’re looking to be immersed in the California wilderness, this is a hike you should try. The Cristainitos trial system borders the outskirts of San Clemente, Camp Pendleton and the Mission Viejo Conservatory. This can be a serious hike depending on where you approach the trail from … it’s either all uphill or downhill. There are only two entrances to the Cristainitos trail, from the top or the bottom. Most approach it from the bottom, entering the trailhead at the end of Avenida Pico, but you can also use the north entrance at the end of Avenida Talega. The northern Cristianitos Trail is also home to the San Clemente Summit, which is the highest point in the city at an elevation of 1,008 feet.
You can also gain access from the North Cristianitos Trail to the Talega Trails, which are difficult to access from the streets (if not a Talega resident).
Forster Ridgeline Trail
4.2 miles - Moderate to Difficult
The Forster Ridgeline trail follows the mountain ridges, providing amazing views of San Clemente. However, the trail can get difficult due to the natural surface of the path and occasional steep inclines, but the wide open terrain makes for good visibility. This Forster Ridgeline Trail can be hard to get to and there are no designated parking areas with access to a trail head. Most approach the trail from Costero Risco, which is just off Camino Vera Cruz. It’s a lower traffic road, which allows you to park on the roadside near the trail head. There are also trail access points along Vista Hermosa and at the end of Camino del Rio.
There are some trail closures to be mindful of due to the La Pata extension construction.
Sea Summit Trail
4 miles - Moderate to Difficult
It’s pretty new to town, so if you haven’t already checked out the Sea Summit Trail system, you need to hurry up and do it. This is one of the few paths with great infrastructure, including fencing, stairs and benches. The gravel trails are easy to traverse, but can become more difficult due to the steep hillside climbs. The trails are easily accessible from Avenida Pico, Vista Hermosa or Pacific Coast Highway. Parking is incredibly easy for the Sea Summit Trails, as you can use the North Beach or Outlet Shop’s parking lots. This hike can be accommodated for all levels, by taking different paths and staying on the top levels. No matter where you choose to go on the Sea Summit Trails, though, they are sure to boast incredible views.
San Clemente Beach Trail
2.3 miles - Easy
In the middle of summer the inland trails can get very hot, so it’s a no brainer that the San Clemente Beach Trail is so popular. It’s probably one of the most frequented trails by both residents and visitors, alike, and is a great hike for all levels. The predominately flat trail follows the coastline, offering continuous and close-up ocean views. The coastal path is accessible from any beach access trail, but most users take advantage of the abundant parking at North Beach and Calafia Beach. The San Clemente Beach Trail is perfect for taking a leisurely walk and brings you past major sites like the pier and T-Street Beach.
Rancho San Clemente Trail
3.5 miles - Moderate to Difficult
Also known as the Water Tower Hike, the Rancho San Clemente Trail winds through the hills with great coastal views that span all the way to Dana Point. The path is paved much of the way and is a great trail for joggers and bikers, as well. Getting to the trail entrance at the top of Avenida Salvador can get tricky, but if you start going downhill again, you know you’ve gone too far. An easier access way to the trail is at the Skate Park off La Pata or off the back of the last business park on Avenida Fabricante. Both of these locations have parking lots near the trailheads.
Prima Deshecha North and South
1.8 miles/3.1 miles - Moderate
This regional trail is part of an on-going project that aims to create a connection from the San Onofre State Park trail system, through San Clemente, to the San Juan Capistrano trail systems. You can catch the trails at a couple places, including at the end of Avenida Pico, near the sports park on Vista Hermosa, and at the corner of Saluda and La Pata. A great place to park for this trail is at the end of La Pata near the Baron von Willard Dog Park. Here you can hop on an extension on the San Onofre State Park trail system, taking the left-most path toward the golf course. In less than a mile, you'll see signs for Prima Deshecha.