It’s a rather slow time of year (for hiking at least) in Colorado, so I thought I’d talk a little about the Santiago Peak hike I did in Orange County, CA in 2011.
We used to live in Orange County (we were there from 2003 until the end of 2011) and by the time I decided to do the hike I already knew we would likely be leaving before long. And of course we did end up moving away.
Santiago Peak is the highest point in Orange County and loomed over our home for the six years we lived in the Portola Hills area. For most of that time I contemplated hiking it, but it was only when we were planning on leaving the area that I decided it was actually time to do it.
While the peak only rises to a modest 5,600 ft, the trail in 18 miles round trip (parking is a mile from the trailhead) and elevation gain is 4500 ft. So the hike is certainly not easy. Likewise the vast majority of residents of Orange County have no idea where the trailhead even is, as it is hidden off a canyon road (it is called the Holy Jim Trail). Also, wildfires have routinely affected the area of the trail in the years since I made this hike so much of the greenery may no longer be quite what you see in the photos.
The hike was on a hot Feb day (seems strange to say that now that I live in Colorado) and for the first several miles it was a rather unspectacular jaunt through canyons and hillsides of scrub. Eventually, however, the switch-backing trail began the full ascent of the peak and the views of the surrounding areas opened up.
While the summit is comprised of unsightly radio antennas, there is an impressive panorama of sites visible from the top. There was even a bit of snow on the shaded side of the summit. You can see Mt. San Jacinto (located near Palm Springs), Lake Elsinore to the east, and the Pacific Coast to the west in the photos below.
The entire hike took about 4 hours to complete at a fairly rapid pace. But for a memorable day hike in Orange County this is certainly a good choice.