The Santa Ana River is one of the largest rivers in Southern California. Its watershed area is approximately 2,800 square miles and includes portions of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles counties. To the north of the Santa Ana River watershed is the San Gabriel River Watershed and the mountains of the Transverse Ranges
. To the east and south are the mountains that comprise the Peninsular Ranges
and the Salton Sea, Southern Mojave, and Santa Margarita Watersheds.
The Santa Ana River starts high in the San Bernardino Mountains southeast of Big Bear. There Coon, Fish, Wildhorse, Cienega Seca, and South Fork Creeks come together within a couple of miles to form the river. South Fork's water comes from snowpack on the north side of Mt. San Gorgonio
, the highest peak in Southern California.
The Santa Ana River flows west down a broad wooded river canyon that eventually narrows at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains
where the Seven Oaks Dam was built in 1999. This is referred to as the "Upper Santa Ana River Canyon" or "Santa Ana River Canyon". Then the river flows down a wide rocky flood plain and down through the cities of Highland and San Bernardino and then continues west. A good place to catch a glimpse of the river is from the 215/10 interchange in San Bernardino. The river flows westward through portions of Riverside and Orange Counties. Prado Dam near Corona was built in 1941. Where the river passes between the Santa Ana Mountains
and Chino Hills is referred to as "Santa Ana Canyon". Eventually the river terminates at the Pacific Ocean near Huntington Beach.
Due to the dams very little water flows in the lower part of the river during the course of the year. But the upper portions in the San Bernardino National Forest do flow year-round and fishing
The Santa Ana River Trail 2E03 starts near Coon Creek and parallels the river west for 33 miles down towards Morton Peak
and the Mill Creek
confluence near Greenspot Road. There is a bicycle trail along the river's lowest reaches near the ocean. Eventually there will be a trail connecting the two and thus along the entire river, crest to coast. Click here
for a map of this project.
To access to upper Santa Ana River Canyon located on the San Bernardino National Forest, take Hwy 38 east from Redlands towards Big Bear. From Hwy 38 several roads lead down into the canyon, the easiest being Glass Road near Barton Flats. This paved road winds its way down a few miles to the Seven Oaks Road which leads to the river and it is generally open year-round. Just before the Seven Oaks Road is where the Santa Ana River Trail 2E03 crosses Glass Road and here there is parking for a few vehicles. This trail is popular with hikers and mountain bikers and the upper portion does get some snow in the winter months. Along the upper trail the vegetation is pine forest and along the lower it transitions to chaparral.
Click here to view the San Bernardino National Forest map. Click here
to buy this and other area maps from the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association.
for an interactive map of the trails and recreation opportunities in the Santa Ana River Watershed.
for directions to the bicycle trail that follows the lower portion of the Santa Ana River.
Wilderness permits are not needed in the Santa Ana River area proper, but if you are hiking up Fish or South Fork Creeks you will need one. Click here
for more info. An Adventure Pass would be required if parking at the South Fork Trailhead.
No campfires are allowed along the Santa Ana River. Dogs are allowed on area trails as long as they are on a leash. Hunting and Fishing are allowed, please visit the
CA Department of Fish & Game website for details. Please practice Leave No Trace
There are numerous campgrounds in the upper part of the Santa Ana River Canyon.
Seven Oaks Lodge
has a private campground right on the banks of the river
South Fork Campground
is a Forest Service Campground that's located where South Fork Creek and the Santa Ana River meet
for more campground locations
San Bernardino National Forest
Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA)
Area Weather Forecast
Etymology, the City of Santa Ana, and the Santa Ana Winds
The area where the city of Santa Ana is now located was named for Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, in about the year 1870. The city, with a current population of about 400,000 people, was founded in 1886 but this area was inhabited long before that time. Native Americans lived along the river as far back as 12,000 years ago. Santa Ana is situated along the Santa Ana River about 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
Named after Southern California's Santa Ana Canyon and a fixture of local legend and literature, the Santa Ana is a blustery, dry and warm (often hot) wind that blows out of the desert. Actually, the Santa Anas develop when the desert is cold, and are thus most common during the cool season stretching from October through March. These winds often fan disastrous fires in the mountains and as such fire restrictions are often enacted when they are blowing.