Distance: 9.5 miles round trip on trail and dirt road
Summit Elevation: 4604'
Elevation Gain: 2900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.32
Round trip time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 72 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
The third highest peak in the Santa Ana Mountains was the goal for another training hike with my wife. We drove up Trabuco Canyon Road, the worst dirt road in Orange County, until it ended at the West Horsethief/Trabuco trailhead. There is enough parking for 6-7 vehicles. I strongly recommend a high clearance vehicle for this road, but we saw a few sedans that braved the road at a crawl. I had been to Trabuco Peak once before, with my daughter, via Main Divide Road. The West Horsethief approach has three distinct sections:
- Trabuco Canyon trail - shaded, bugs likely in spring and summer
- West Horsethief switchbacks - most of the gain is done here
- Main Divide Road and firebreak - loose dirt on the firebreak to the summit
West Horsethief trail is where most of the uphill work is done. The lower part of the trail had more poison oak, some of it intruding onto the trail. It was more overgrown than my last time here. Multiple switchbacks carve up the slope, growing longer the higher up you go. Once we started to rise away from the creek, the bugs and vegetation eased up, and we took the bug nets off. About half way up, we got good views of Yaeger Mesa, a flat grassy area across the canyon. The vegetation also changes, with more manzanita lining the trail. The nicest part of the trail is near the top where pine trees dominate and the trail gets sandy. Unfortunately, that part was short and we soon hit Main Divide Road. We stopped here for a break where a truck was parked. Within minutes, a group of three hunters came up the trail with a cardboard blind and one rifle in tow. They appeared to be done for the day. My guess is they were hunting deer, but I didn't think it was deer season. After the break, we headed toward Trabuco Peak, roughly 1.25 miles north.
The road drops a little before rising again to a firebreak on the right leading to Trabuco Peak. A fancy wooden sign has been added marking the spot to leave the road. I think these signs were created and placed by Mark Allen, thanks! Views opened up on the east side of the mountains. Unlike my first visit, the sky was clear all the way to San Gorgonio and San Jacinto. I got a good look at Lake Elsinore and the other local peaks. From the firebreak, it's only a little over 100' gain to the summit. The firebreak is a combination of loose dirt and boulders. A little bit of class 2 is required to make it to the top. The summit also had a fancy wooden sign. The old register and benchmark were still there. I found a scrap of paper signed by Adam Walker and Anish. I added our names to the scrap and put it back in the register. The bugs were also a problem on the summit so we didn't hang around. The summit itself is surrounded by brush so there aren't any views anyway. Heading back to West Horsethief, we were passed by several trucks and a couple of motorcycles. Back at the junction with Trabuco Canyon, we surprised a trail worker taking a leak. He nervously cracked a joke saying "well that was bad timing". Dude, why not move a few feet away from a trail junction? He asked us about the poison oak on West Horsethief and said he was there to clear it out. He wasn't in a uniform and I guessed he was a volunteer. The rest of the return was uneventful. We only saw three other hikers the whole trip.
Trabuco Peak via Main Divide Road