Here is another pretty hike in the Cleveland National Forest. The trailhead begins from the same parking lot for the Sitton Peak hike. The single-track dirt path quickly takes you into Decker Canyon and away from the Ortega Hwy (Route 74) noise.
The sound of the creek from the canyon was relaxing. It gave me hope that we might actually see some water at Chiquito Falls. There is a path down to San Juan Falls but we continued our trek on the San Juan Loop Trail.
The trail started out flat and easy but changed to rocky soon and started the decline. The sun was still behind the hills so there was plenty of shade on the trail.
The first 1.1 miles were downhill. When the trail leveled out, we came to a junction where there was a bench with “San Juan Loop” carved on it. We took the trail curved to the right towards the falls.
You can stay on the San Juan Loop trail and finish the second half of the loop trail to go back to the trailhead if you desire a shorter hike. San Juan Loop hike is a little over 2 miles in total with enough elevation gain (~300 ft) to make it feel like a workout.
If the creek was running, we would’ve had to hop across the creek to pick up the trail but there was no water when we visited. We just walked right through the dry sandy creek bed. After this junction, the trail stayed flat for a short while before the incline began.
The next 2.5 miles were uphill with shy of 1,000 feet of elevation gain. It was a beautiful morning in April. All the lizards were out and soaking in the vitamin D from the sun. I’ve never seen that many lizards on one trail. Xena is usually careless about the lizards. Her prey drive only kicks in for little furry creatures 🐇🐿 but with so many lizards out sunbathing on the rocks, it was hard to ignore them I guess. She chased a few that day and was proud of herself.
There were a couple of steep rocky parts that require some scrambling but they were short and doable. On the way to the waterfalls, we found some wildflowers. It wasn’t much but they still made me happy.
When you are too short to reach the wildflower to smell
The trail was easy to follow until we were maybe 50 feet away from the falls. At this point, you have hiked 4.5 miles. Go to the left. My internal GPS said to go right but my internal GPS is not a good model and I don’t trust it so I checked the GPS on my phone. Sure enough, I needed to go to the left. If the water was running, we would have heard the water because we were that close but it was all dried up when we visited.
I kept Xena behind me and we bushwhacked to the bottom of the waterfall while I was watching out for a snake.
I am so glad she has no interest in snakes. On the way back, she walked by one that was just off the trail and didn’t even notice it until I shrieked. Even when she turned around to see what the fuss was about, as seen in the photo below, she had no interest.
Luckily, it wasn’t a rattlesnake. It’s getting warm. Time to get extra cautious on the trail. If you are seriously concerned about your dog taking an interest in snakes, look up who provides snake aversion training for dogs in your area. Also, there is an emergency venom extractor for snake bite. It’s available on Amazon for less than $13 for Prime members. For that price, it might be a good idea to have one for camping/hiking/hunting trips if there is high snake activity.
I would like to go back after a good rainy season. According to pictures from the last year’s springtime, the water was clear and the water holes were shallow enough for Xena to play in. The trail was fun and pretty. I’d do it again!
Good to Know:
- Hike Date: 4.1.18
- Distance: 9 miles RT
- Elevation Gain: 1,431 feet
- Difficulty Level: Challenging
- Trailhead Coordinates: San Juan Loop Trailhead (33.613556, -117.427149)
- Avoid hiking with dogs during summer. The trail is mostly exposed.
- Adventure Pass required for parking
- Vault toilets available in the parking lot