Bear Canyon Trail

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 33.35000°N / 117.26°W
Additional Information GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map
Additional Information Route Type: Hiking
Seasons Season: Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Class 1, a short scree scramble to gain the peak
Sign the Climber's Log


This is one of the more popular hikes off the Ortega Highway (SR74). Its about 11 miles round trip, on trails and converted dirt roads; when the area became the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness in 1984 the old dirt roads criss-crossing this former ranchland were allowed to revert back to trail. The only 'technical' part is a short 1/4 mile scramble through dense brush to get to the peak itself. The hike is best done late fall through early spring, as it gets notoriously hot during the summer months. If you get tired of plodding through snow and ice in mid-winter, and want to get in some nice, easy trail-miles, this could be your 'ticket'.

Getting There

Follow the directons on the main page to get to the San Juan Loop Trail parking lot across from the Ortega Oaks Candy Store. FYI: The 'San Juan Loop' is a 2.5 mile nature trail behind the parking lot. Kinda interesting if you have the time to walk it and there aren't too many others on it.

Route Description

Start by crossing over the highway to the 'Candy Store', then walk down the road about 50 yards until you see the "Bear Canyon Trailhead" sign (see the picture at the top of this route page). Go up the ramp and you'll come to a sign-in register (no permit required).

0 - 2.1 miles - This is the Bear Canyon Trail. It alternates going through thick brush, stands of oaks trees, and open chaparrel country. The trail is undulating, as you're going over the ridge from one watershed to another. There is one branching trail about one mile from the start (the Morgan Trail); its signed and easy to avoid. after 2.1 miles you come to a small oak-covered clearing and can either go right to continue on the Bear Canyon Trail, or go straight ahead and contiune of the Bear Ridge Trail. Both meet at the spot known as 'Four Corners'.

2.1 - 3.2 miles (Bear Canyon Trail). This is the old Verdugo Truck Trail. Well covered on both sides with tall brush and oaks, its fairly flat. Follow it 1.1 miles and you'll get to the spot known as 'Four Corners'. About half way along the trail you'll notice the old horse trough & well at Pidgeon Springs. Sorry, no water here anymore.

2.1 - 3.6 miles (Bear Ridge Trail). This is an alternate to the Bear Canyon Trail above. It climbs up and gains a ridge, giving great views toward the south. It also ends at 'Four Corners'.

SUGGESTION: take the 'Ridge' trail going to Sitton Peak, as its cooler in the morning, and come back along the 'Canyon' trail - shorter, flatter, and partially shaded from the mid-day sun.

3.2/3.6 - 5 miles (Sitton Peak Trail). You're at 'Four Corners', where five trails come together. If you came up the Bear Canyon Trail, turn right and you'll see the old truck trail that heads uphill towards Sitton Peak. If you came along the bear Ridge Trail, go straight across 'Four Corners' and you'll be on the truck trail. (The trail has a white 'stick' sign on it, as do the other trails.). Follow this trail up-and-over a ridge (that 'peak' on your right at the top of the ridge is a false summit), then it'll go down (bummer!) to the base of Sitton Peak. You'll know you're at Sitton's base by the white 'stick' marker next to a trace trail going up the slope. There's also a few remains of a USMC Super Cobra helicopter that crashed in 1986.

5 miles - summit. Scramble up the scree-covered slope along the trace trail through the thick brush, following the trail as best you can, until attaining the ridge. Turn left and walk about 100 yards to the south summit (the north summit, with the weather station gear, is 20 ft lower). Enjoy the view, have a snack and a drink, take a nap, and return the way you came.

Essential Gear

This is essentially a trail hike with no special gear needed, but here are some caveats:

There are no water sources along the route, so bring all the water you need (Pidgeon Springs has always been dry when I've been by it);

Wear long pants for protection. Poison oak is present along the first few miles of the Bear Canyon Trail, and the scramble to the top of the peak is through some tough brush that'll tear up your legs if you're not careful.

Do this hike in the winter. Its freakishly hot in mid-summer; I did it once in July, and I won't make that mistake again!

External Links

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