Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tenaja Falls

Hiked: 4/11/2015
Distance: 1.7 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1560' (above the falls)
Elevation Gain: 300'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.24
Round trip time: 1 hour
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Easy

Parker and I made a short excursion to another local waterfall. Tenaja Falls in the southeastern Santa Anas is large and multi-tiered. The hike is easy and relatively popular, but the drive is long unless you live in the Lake Elsinore area. From Orange County, there are three ways to get to the other side of the Santa Ana Mountains.
  • You can go around the mountains to the north via highway 91, then south on I-15 to Clinton Keith Road.
  • You can go over the mountains via highway 74 (Ortega), then south on Grand Ave to Clinton Keith Road. As an alternative, you can turn right on South Main Divide Road and take it to the dirt Wildomar Road (7S04) and get to the trailhead from the north. The quality of Wildomar Road is unknown.
  • You can go around the mountains to the south via I-5, east on highway 76, then north on I-15 to Clinton Keith Road.
From Clinton Keith Road, go west/southwest until it turns into Tenaja Road at a bend right. In less than 2 miles, you will come to a stop sign where you need to turn right to stay on Tenaja Road. Go another 4 miles, then turn right on Cleveland Forest Road (7S01). Go past the Tenaja Trailhead, past the Fisherman's Camp Trailhead, and park in the turnout for Tenaja Falls Trailhead. This area is a confusing maze of dirt roads and I got lost here on my first trip to the area for Margarita Peak, which shares the same access route as far as Cleveland Forest Road. Cleveland Forest Road is a one lane paved road with turnouts, so I drove slowly around turns and was ready to share half the road with vehicles coming the other way if a turnout was not handy. There are some potholes along the way, but any vehicle can make this trip. Driving there is half the adventure.

I was surprised to find no one else at the trailhead. Near the start of the trail is a wide stream crossing. I tested the thin line of rocks across it and they were unstable. We followed a path to the right that led to an easy crossing and got us back on the main trail. There was a lot of poison oak just off and sometimes in the trail near the start. In about a half mile, the trail opens up to a full view of Tenaja Falls. I knew it would only be a trickle during the drought, but could tell it would be something special in full flow. A couple had joined us on the trail and we arrived at the top of the falls about the same time. There was a benchmark at the top, but it was too scratched up to read the marking. Parker played near the top seeing how far down he could throw rocks, while I scrambled around a little to take some better pictures. We hung around the top a while enjoying a welcome breeze before heading back the way we came.

Tenaja Falls Trailhead

Stream crossing, rocks were loose so we went around to the right

Tenaja Falls from the trail

Roughed up benchmark at the top of the falls

Parker at the top of the falls

Looking down from the top

Exploring the falls

A trickle coming down the first tier

Standing in the sad water flow

Launching rocks down the falls

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