Distance: 4.4 miles on trail
Summit Elevation: 3591'
Elevation Gain: 800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.64
Round trip time: 2 hours
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
The San Mateo Peak trail starts at the Morgan trail head off South Main Divide Road (accessed from highway 74, Ortega). I tried to take a shortcut from a dirt road just past the Morgan trail head, but it was intentionally blocked with rocks and brush. Not to be stopped, I parked just off the South Main Divide Road and crossed the barrier on foot. In the end, this backfired because I wasted time going cross country trying to find the trail to San Mateo, only to back track and follow a trail that intersected with it. It also cost me time on return when I missed a junction and went a few minutes the wrong way. I'll start at the Morgan trail head next time.
One of the fun things about this hike is the pair of plastic dinosaur markers along the way. One marks the junction to the peak trail, and the other didn't seem to have any purpose other than entertainment. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. There are a few boulders to climb along the way and a few on the summit. The summit sign says "San Mateo 4000 ft." even though the summit registered only 3596' on my GPS. The Sierra club lists it at 3591' so I am not sure how the sign came to read 4000'. The register was in an ammo box just behind the sign. I signed it, then proceeded to climb all the summit boulders. One was an easy class 3, the rest class 2, but it was fun to climb and gave me some more boulder practice. On the return, I took a short side trip up to a bump that had a large California state flag fluttering in the wind. There were no markers or indications why the flag was there or who put it there. Like Margarita Peak, I met no one coming or going.