3 National Forests in 3 Days

January 17-19, 2009
We live within 15 minutes of the San Bernardino and Angeles National Forests, and
we're also not too far from the Cleveland National Forest, about 45 minutes or so.  So
this last weekend, being a 3-day weekend, I decided to visit all three...  why not?  On
Saturday Todd and I drove down to Lake Elsinore and then up the Ortega Highway (Hwy
74) to the Santa Ana Mountains which are part of the Cleveland National Forest.  These
mountains don't get too high so they're the perfect destination for the wintertime.  And
the views from them to the highest peaks in Southern California (Mt. Baldy, Mt. San
Gorgonio, and Mt. San Jacinto) are incredible!  We hiked the short El Cariso Nature
Trail and we were going to camp at Blue Jay Campground but after driving to it found
out it had been closed recently due to storm damage.  Too bad the Cleveland National
Forest website hadn't been updated!  According to it both the El Cariso Visitor Center
and Blue Jay Campgrounds are open, but they're not   Someone in recreation or visitor
information isn't doing their job...  Oh well, should've called to confirm I guess.
More about these areas
Another hike to Big Falls
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So Todd and I continued our drive west down a beautiful rugged canyon and then
towards the coast.  This area begs to be revisited and explored...  the San Mateo Canyon
Wilderness in particular and several waterfalls in the area.  But we made it to the
beach and San Juan Capistrano and had dinner and took in the sunset before heading
back home.

On Sunday Todd suggested driving up towards Mt. Baldy on the Angeles National
Forest.  There we hiked the short hike up to San Antonio Falls.  It was another gorgeous
day to be in the mountains    Blue sky, warm sun, cool breeze, still some snow in the
shade but the trail was clear.
On Monday Todd had to go to work but being a federal holiday I had the day off   So I
headed towards Forest Falls on the San Bernardino National Forest.  I hiked to Big
Falls, the highest waterfall in Southern California, and then kept hiking down the
canyon.  There was snow in the shade and on the north-facing bank, but the south facing
bank was clear and early clouds burnt off and the sun came out and the hike was very
enjoyable.  I saw lots of birds and cat prints in the sand - probably bob cats.  I was
hoping to see a Bighorn Sheep which like to come down the canyon in the wintertime but
no luck.  Then I headed up to the Barton Flats area and hiked the Ponderosa Nature
Trail and then took a drive down into Seven Oaks and hiked a bit along the Santa Ana
River.  There were only a few others out and about and I had a nice time exploring by
San Bernardino and San Gorgonio Peaks with Lake
Elsinore in the foreground
San Jacinto Peak with Lake Elsinore in the foreground
San Gorgonio peaking up over the Santa Ana Mountains as seen
from the El Cariso Nature Trail
Manzanita and Sugar Bush are blooming
Oak gall
Unfinished California Firefighter Memorial
San Antonio Falls is about 100 feet high
The Mt. Baldy Bowl, the trail going up there is one of the
main routes to climb Mt. Baldy (aka Mt. San Antonio)
Lots of big beautiful Ponderosa Pines and Big-cone Douglas Fir
Pseudotsuga macrocarpa which only grows in Southern California
Gorgeous views to the Santa Ana River Valley below
Big Falls is the highest waterfall in Southern
California at about 500 feet
White Alder Alnus rhombifolia
Morton Peak on bottom left, Cucamonga Peak and
Mt. Baldy background right
Big and beautiful old incense cedar
Libocedrus decurrens
Keller Peak as seen across the Santa Ana River Canyon
Cucamonga Peak and Mt. Baldy in the background
Photographed from the Ponderosa Nature Trail
Santa Ana River and white alders photographed near Seven Oaks
Being a gray cloudy day I decided to use B+W