|Indian paintbrush, Fishermans Camp Trail, San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.|
The trailhead for Fishermans Camp is only about 5 or 6 miles from Ortega Hwy (Hwy 74) in Orange County. "Hey, I live in Orange County, this will be easy and quick to get to." Uh, not so much. While Fishermans Camp is only 5 or 6 miles straight line distance, getting there is not so straightforward. There are a couple of options.
1. Hiking. If one is willing to hike 10 or so miles, one can start from the Bear Canyon Trailhead on Ortega Highway near Upper San Juan Campground. There are a number of variations on this route; I've sketched them on a topographic map. I'll post a link to a topographic map with my GPS track on it down below.
2. Driving. In this case, since I had my five year old along, I decided to drive to the closest trailhead, the Fishermans Camp Trailhead. Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way to get to this trailhead from central Orange County.
First, here's a Google Map. From Central Orange County, the fastest way to get to the Fishermans Camp Trailhead is to take the 91 east to the 15. Turn right (southeast) on the 15 and proceed to Clinton Keith Road near Murietta, CA. Turn right (south southwest) on Clinton Keith Road. Clinton Keith Road will go out into the country side. After about five miles, you'll come to a hard right turn. Clinton Keith Road ends here, and as you turn right, you're on Tenaja Road. Go about 1.7 miles on Tenaja Road and come to a stop sign. Turn right here to stay on Tenaja. There's a large rock on the SW corner that says "Tenaja" on it.
|The "Tenaja" rock. Turn right here to stay on Tenaja Road.|
|Turn right on "Cleveland Forest Road."|
But we're headed to the Fishermans Camp Trail today, so we drive on. The narrow, one-lane road deteriorates somewhat past the Tenaja Trailhead but is in reasonably good shape and is paved the entire way. It was no problem for my Honda Accord although there was one tense moment when I rounded a corner only to see a large 4WD pickup truck coming straight for me. We both stopped in time, but this is definitely a road that you wouldn't want to speed on. The road is narrow and winding to the Fishermans Camp Trailhead, so if one is prone to car sickness, this might not be the road for you.
About 3.7 miles from where you turned off from Tenaja Road, you'll come to the signed trailhead for the Fishermans Camp Trail.
|The trailhead sign at the Fishermans Camp Trailhead.|
|Fishermans Camp Trailhead. Note rock.|
On March 21st, the day we hiked the trail, there was a lot of nice greenery in the trailhead area. The trailhead rock makes a nice plaything for children.
|My daughter, climbing on the trailhead rock. Note narrowness of parking area.|
Shortly past the register, you'll come to a flexible plastic post that says "Wilderness Boundary". I'm not so sure this is the exact boundary. The Forest Service map shows that the boundary is quite a bit further in. Regardless of where the boundary is exactly, you'll need a wilderness permit if you want to stay overnight.
|Wilderness boundary marker, Fishermans Camp Trail, San Mateo Canyon Wilderness|
You'll now proceed along the old road bed which makes for a nicely graded trail. The road basically contours over to a small saddle and then descends to Fishermans Camp in 1.8 miles, losing no more than 500 feet in elevation along the way. All in all, this is a pretty easy hike and is suitable for small children that can handle dirt trail hiking, such as my five year old daughter. It is of course not as smooth as say a city park, and there is a rocky creek crossing (dry the day we were there) before one arrives at the camp site.
Along the way, we saw a lot of nice wildflowers like these red monkey flowers.
|Red monkey flowers.|
|A red monkey flower.|
|The trail passes through a lot of shadeless chaparral. Pick a cool day to do this trail!|
|Hydration being key to an enjoyable (and safe) hike, be sure to bring plenty of water.|
|San Mateo Canyon. On the far side of the canyon is the San Mateo Trail.|
|The junction with the San Mateo Trail.|
|Tenaja Creek. Dry as a bone on 21 March 2015.|
Arriving at the camp, I was pleased to find some nice green areas.
|Campsite, Fishermans Camp|
|Lunch spot, Fishermans Camp.|
|Chef Joyce prepares the noon repast.|
|Poison oak. "Leaves of three; let it be"|
|Heading south on the Tenaja Trail.|
|Downed log on the Tenaja Trail.|
|A peony on the Tenaja Trail.|
|The lovely peony.|
|"Our Lords Candle", more commonly called just "yucca." Scientific binomial: Yucca whipplei.|
|Looking west down San Mateo Creek.|
Thoughts for Future Trips
1. Tenaja Trail. When my daughter gets a little older, I'd like to hike this again, hopefully in a non-drought year, from the Tenaja Trailhead. The Tenaja Trail seemed like a much greener, shadier trail than the Fishermans Camp Trail although the Fishermans Camp Trail was nice. The Tenaja Trail is about 7 miles round trip, which is a bit much for a five year old. My general rule of thumb is one mile per year of age.
2. San Mateo Trail. I'd like to see Tenaja Falls which is about a mile's hike from the same road that one takes to get to Fisherman's Camp. From the Tenaja Falls Trailhead, the San Mateo Trail descends to Fishermans Camp, yet another way to get into the area.
3. Were I hiking without my daugher, I'd hike in from the Bear Canyon Trailhead, come down one branch or the other of the Bluewater Trail, and spend the night at Fishermans Camp. It would be a lot easier to drive to the Bear Canyon Trailhead on Ortega Hwy than to drive all the way around past Lake Elsinore almost to Temecula to get to the east side trailheads, and I think it would be an interesting hike. The big question mark in this drought is water. I don't know of any reliable water source en route, and it's a tough haul to carry two days worth of water (one day to hike in, one day to hike out). I figure I'd want to carry about 6 to 8 liters, depending on the weather, of water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and hygiene. A liter of water weighs about 35 ounce, a standard Nalgene 1 liter bottle weighs about 6 ounces, so one has to carry 41 ounces per liter (if one uses Nalgenes). So, to carry eight liters of water, I'd be carrying 41 x 8 = 328 ounces which is just over twenty pounds! And that's just water weight. I still have to carry all my other gear. Of course, you wouldn't have to carry the water the whole time; it gets lighter with every sip, but carrying an extra 20 lbs even for a short distance would make me think twice before attempting the hike. If one were to switch to bladders, such as the 1 liter Platypus bladders which weigh about an ounce each, one could save 5 x 8 = 40 ounces which is about 2.5 pounds. So you'd carry 18 pounds instead of 20.5 – which is still quite a load. I'll probably wait for a cool day on a non-drought year.
Thanks for joining me on this little hike to Fishermans Camp.
Appendix – The Other Reason
Actually, there is one other reason to head out that direction (the east side of the Santa Ana range): Nomad Ventures. Nomad Ventures is a real gear shop. I mean REI is OK for the casual hiker, but you'll never find high end gear there, the kind of gear that serious, experienced hikers in the know want. Usually you have to order that kind of gear over the internet, sight unseen, and pay shipping. Nomad Ventures has somehow survived in this era of slick mass marketing. It's this funky little gear shop like you'd expect in a mountain town. They have four stores, one of which is in Temecula, of all places. Nomad Ventures is the last of the real gear shops in Southern California although Adventure 16 comes pretty close. In all fairness, Real Cheap Sports is a good gear shop, but they're all the way up in Ventura for crying out loud, double the drive time to Nomad Ventures. I personally have another reason to visit; a friend of mine works there. But it's every bit a pleasure to browse at Nomad Ventures.
|In Nomad Ventures, Temecula, CA|