Chiquito Falls (Lion Canyon Falls)

Lake Elsinore / San Juan Capistrano / Cleveland National Forest, California, USA

About Chiquito Falls (Lion Canyon Falls)


Hiking Distance: about 9.6 miles round-trip
Suggested Time: allow 4-6 hours

Date first visited: 2021-12-31
Date last visited: 2021-12-31

Waterfall Latitude: 33.62098
Waterfall Longitude: -117.45553

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Chiquito Falls (or Lion Canyon Falls) was a diminutive seasonal waterfall near the Ortega Highway that was definitely off-the-beaten path.

In fact, the word chiquito literally means “little boy”, but there’s a lot of Mexican slang associated with this word to drive home the connotation of being “tiny” (I’ll let you figure out what those other associations are).

Chiquito_Falls_285_12312021 - Chiquito Falls flowing the day after the end of the last saturation rains of December 2021
Chiquito Falls flowing the day after the end of the last saturation rains of December 2021

So don’t expect this 10-15ft waterfall (that doesn’t even flow for most of the year) to knock your socks off, especially since it required quite a long hike.

To give you an idea of the trail length, my GPS logs suggested that we had gone at least 9.6 miles not counting side excursions.

Nevertheless, that effort could be this waterfall hike’s main appeal in a strange way.

You see, over the years, we’ve noticed that just about every known, reasonably easy-to-access waterfall in Southern California has been either loved to death or exhibited urban blight, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

Chiquito_Falls_366_12312021 - The Chiquito Falls (or Lion Canyon Falls) was more about the journey than the destination. So we were in better position to appreciate sights like these god beams over the Ortega Highway
The Chiquito Falls (or Lion Canyon Falls) was more about the journey than the destination. So we were in better position to appreciate sights like these god beams over the Ortega Highway

However, if you’re going to spend that much effort on a hike where the waterfall is not guaranteed to satisfy you, then it will definitely reduce the number of people doing it (and reduce the side effects that would come with it).

Therefore, as an overall experience, I view Chiquito Falls as an alternative waterfall excursion where it’s more about the journey than the destination.

Experiencing Chiquito Falls (Lion Canyon Falls)

According to the Gaia Topo map, Chiquito Falls was more formally known as Lion Canyon Falls after the namesake canyon it was in.

We timed our visit to this waterfall less than 24 hours after the last of a series of heavy rain storms had passed in late December 2021.

Chiquito_Falls_318_12312021 - Looking down across the context of the barely visible profile of Chiquito Falls with someone standing near its brink for a sense of scale
Looking down across the context of the barely visible profile of Chiquito Falls with someone standing near its brink for a sense of scale

Since most of California had been in a drought for much of that year as well as the end of 2020, the rains were welcome, but as you can see from the photos on this page, the falls still didn’t flow as much as I had hoped.

That kind of gives you an idea of how much you’d have to time a visit to this falls since I’d imagine Lion Canyon’s creek may not have much of a catchment to sustain a longer and more vigorous flow.

While the temporary waterfall was an attraction in and of itself, even if it wasn’t flowing, there were large boulders nearby, which also acted like fun climbing obstacles.

Although the falls may not be that tall, the ledge giving the waterfall its height was definitely high enough to make you seriously think twice about going down by jumping!

Chiquito_Falls_303_12312021 - Around Chiquito Falls, there were bouldering obstacles that provided a fun little climbing challenge (with caution) even if the waterfall wouldn't be flowing
Around Chiquito Falls, there were bouldering obstacles that provided a fun little climbing challenge (with caution) even if the waterfall wouldn’t be flowing

Anyways, if you attempt this hike at a warmer time of the year (i.e. spring, summer, or fall), you really have to pay attention to the conditions, because the length, elevation gain, temperature, and sun exposure will increase the risk of heat exhaustion.

That’s why in order to get the maximum enjoyment out of the Chiquito Falls Experience, I’d recommend timing this hike for winter right after a significant storm (or two) has passed.

Chiquito Falls Trail Summary

The hike to Chiquito Falls began from the San Juan Loop Trailhead (see directions below), which was the same trailhead we would take to go to San Juan Falls.

The entire hike can be broken up into two parts – the San Juan Loop Trail and the Chiquito Trail.

Chiquito_Falls_130_12312021 - The first part of the Chiquito Falls hike involves hiking the San Juan Loop Trail to this junction with the Chiquito Trail on the opposite side of the loop
The first part of the Chiquito Falls hike involves hiking the San Juan Loop Trail to this junction with the Chiquito Trail on the opposite side of the loop

Together, the overall trail length is about 4.8 miles in each direction or 9.6 miles round-trip, and it took a group of three of us about 5-6 hours of hiking time.

This does not count any side excursions like San Juan Falls and a smaller waterfall further downstream (I called it “Lower San Juan Falls”).

The San Juan Loop portion of the hike makes up the first 1.1 to 1.2 miles (losing about 300ft of elevation), and we had a choice of which direction to go from the trailhead – clockwise or counterclockwise.

Personally, I’d recommend starting in a counterclockwise manner, and this is how I’m describing the trail in detail in the next sections.

Chiquito_Falls_032_12312021 - Descending towards San Juan Falls near the start of the San Juan Loop Trail going in a counterclockwise direction. This was one of the main reasons why we do the loop in this manner instead of going clockwise towards the Chiquito Trail Junction
Descending towards San Juan Falls near the start of the San Juan Loop Trail going in a counterclockwise direction. This was one of the main reasons why we do the loop in this manner instead of going clockwise towards the Chiquito Trail Junction

That’s because this route is not as affected by the noise of the Ortega Highway, and there are two waterfalls on the way to the Chiquito Trail Junction (about 1.2 miles from the trailhead).

Conversely, the clockwise route pretty much skirts along the noisy Ortega Highway for almost the entire 1.1-mile stretch before reaching its fork with the Chiquito Trail.

Although we could have returned via the noisier side of the San Juan Loop, we ultimately treated this as an out-and-back hike to avoid that noisier side.

Then, the Chiquito Trail makes up the remaining 3.6 miles from the departure of the San Juan Loop Trail to Chiquito Falls.

Chiquito_Falls_199_12312021 - The hardest part of the Chiquito Falls hike involved a climb of nearly 1000 ft on the Chiquito Trail before descending into Lion Canyon. During much of this stretch, it's totally exposed to the sun so it can be a brutal hike at warmer times of the year
The hardest part of the Chiquito Falls hike involved a climb of nearly 1000 ft on the Chiquito Trail before descending into Lion Canyon. During much of this stretch, it’s totally exposed to the sun so it can be a brutal hike at warmer times of the year

During this stretch, we initially gained about 950ft of elevation to the apex of the trail before losing about 250ft to reach the target waterfall.

The highest points of the Chiquito Trail treated us with expansive panoramas encompassing distant views of the Ortega Highway as well as boulder-strewn canyons.

There were also opportunities to look more closely at the plant life as well as observing wildlife (I noticed some soaring falcons during our New Year’s Eve visit).

Trail Description – Hiking Part Of The San Juan Loop

Starting from the northern end of the San Juan Loop Trailhead, we hiked roughly 0.3-mile as the trail rounded a bend while overlooking the Ortega Highway.

Chiquito_Falls_027_12312021 - The San Juan Loop Trail starts off skirting above the noisy Ortega Highway down below. However, the clockwise route is less exposed to the noise pollution than the clockwise trail
The San Juan Loop Trail starts off skirting above the noisy Ortega Highway down below. However, the clockwise route is less exposed to the noise pollution than the clockwise trail

After the bend, the trail descended to an overlook with a bench and a railing with a wide view of the three main drops of San Juan Falls (which I have a detailed write-up for).

In any case, I really used this falls as an indicator of whether I should bother continuing with Chiquito Falls even though they’re technically sourced by different drainages.

Continuing on the San Juan Loop Trail, it skirted the top of a ravine of San Juan Creek before rounding a bend and continued losing the remainder of its elevation over a couple of switchbacks.

On the second of the switchbacks (about 0.3-mile from the overlook at San Juan Falls or roughly 3/4-mile from the parking lot), I noticed an unsigned side trail.

Chiquito_Falls_088_12312021 - Descending towards a second switchback on the San Juan Loop Trail going clockwise, where there was an unsigned spur scrambling down to a small waterfall on San Juan Creek that I called 'Little San Juan Falls'
Descending towards a second switchback on the San Juan Loop Trail going clockwise, where there was an unsigned spur scrambling down to a small waterfall on San Juan Creek that I called ‘Little San Juan Falls’

This optional side trail descended a somewhat steep and overgrown 200ft path towards the bottom of a small 5-10ft waterfall on San Juan Creek that I called “Little San Juan Falls” (I wasn’t sure if it had a formal name or not).

Continuing with the San Juan Loop Trail, it eventually bottomed out alongside San Juan Creek, where we obeyed the signs and ignored a false trail before reaching the signed trail junction with the Chiquito Trail.

By this point, we had gone 1.2 miles from the trailhead, and we had the option of looping back to the trailhead or going to our right to embark on the Chiquito Trail.

Trail Description – The Chiquito Trail

Shortly after leaving the San Juan Loop Trail, the Chiquito Trail started off with a crossing of San Juan Creek.

Chiquito_Falls_411_12312021 - Looking back at a crossing of San Juan Creek, which was near the start of the Chiquito Trail as it departed the San Juan Loop Trail. This was the only part of the hike where we had to go on a slight detour to keep our shoes from getting water going into them
Looking back at a crossing of San Juan Creek, which was near the start of the Chiquito Trail as it departed the San Juan Loop Trail. This was the only part of the hike where we had to go on a slight detour to keep our shoes from getting water going into them

During our visit, there was enough water in the creek to inundate our hiking boots so we made a brief detour to our left (downstream) to traverse the creek over some strategically-placed rocks.

Once past the crossing, the trail then skirted a smaller feeder stream for nearly a mile before crossing it and starting the hardest part of the hike.

In this stretch, the trail climbed nearly 1000ft over 2 miles, and the scenery noticeably changed from thicker vegetation and trees flanking the feeder stream to low-lying bushes with lots of big boulders.

In the early part of the ascent (as we climbed above the trees and vegetation in the lower reaches of the canyon), we were able to look east and south towards the Ortega Highway.

Chiquito_Falls_211_12312021 - The one nice thing about trails that climb like the Chiquito Trail did was that it yielded sweeping panoramic views of the San Mateo Wilderness
The one nice thing about trails that climb like the Chiquito Trail did was that it yielded sweeping panoramic views of the San Mateo Wilderness

As the trail climbed even higher, we started to skirt alongside giant boulders while noticing unusual vegetation (including some bulbous venus fly trap-looking plant).

Then, the trail descended into Lion Canyon for the remaining 3/4-mile dropping about 250ft in that stretch, where we started to get distant glimpses of Chiquito Falls.

Eventually, the trail veered to the left at an unsigned junction (the other path continued the Chiquito Trail to the north) before arriving at the top of the falls.

In order to safely get to the bottom, we backtracked a short distance from the brink, where we noticed a benign trail that went around the large boulders on a narrow use-trail.

Chiquito_Falls_306_12312021 - More contextual look at Chiquito Falls' flow a day after the last of the heavy rains had passed in Southern California
More contextual look at Chiquito Falls’ flow a day after the last of the heavy rains had passed in Southern California

It deposited us by the stream, where we then scrambled upstream along its slightly overgrown banks to the bottom of the waterfall.

Overall, this long 3.6-mile stretch of the hike took us the better part of 2 hours, and we savored the spot for a bit before going back the way we came.

Authorities

Chiquito Falls (Lion Canyon Falls) resides in the Cleveland National Forest near Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, California (the waterfall itself is actually across the county line in Orange County). It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Chiquito_Falls_015_12312021 - I don't know why this picnic table at the San Juan Loop Trailhead parking lot captivated me while we were waiting for another family to join us on this hike to at least San Juan Falls (and eventually Chiquito Falls for those who were game). Maybe it was because the table seemed to have been warped
Chiquito_Falls_017_12312021 - The crew getting started on the San Juan Loop Trail as we took it in a counterclockwise direction
Chiquito_Falls_020_12312021 - Initially on the San Juan Loop Trail as it briefly went by some trees and shrubs with the Ortega Highway audible but not visible yet
Chiquito_Falls_023_12312021 - Skirting around a bend as the San Juan Loop Trail overlooks the Ortega Highway as well as some knobs in the distance (which I'd imagine was closer to Ortega Falls)
Chiquito_Falls_034_12312021 - The group descending towards San Juan Falls during our late December 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_037_12312021 - Approaching the lookout above San Juan Falls during our late December 2021 visit. This was where the ladies turned around, but the guys kept going to Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_038_12312021 - Our first (sanctioned) look down at the diminutive San Juan Falls from the lookout in late December 2021. The fact that it flowed better than our first time here in January 2016 gave us hope that Chiquito Falls ought to be flowing though I was kind of expecting better performance from San Juan Falls than what we saw here
Chiquito_Falls_040_12312021 - This was the broad view of the three main tiers of San Juan Falls (when flowing nicely) as seen on our late December 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_015_iPhone_12312021 - Looking down at the context of San Juan Falls and the surrounding rocky terrain during our late December 2021 visit shortly before the guys continued towards Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_082_12312021 - Continuing the hike beyond San Juan Falls as we now headed towards the Chiquito Trail junction, which was another 3/4-mile or so beyond San Juan Falls
Chiquito_Falls_085_12312021 - The San Juan Loop Trail descended towards San Juan Creek and eventually the Chiquito Trail junction
Chiquito_Falls_020_iPhone_12312021 - On the way to Chiquito Falls, we made an unexpected detour to this tiny waterfall that I'm calling the 'Lower San Juan Falls'
Chiquito_Falls_092_12312021 - Broad look at the fairly hard-to-see 'Lower San Juan Falls' probably due to that tree growing in front of it
Chiquito_Falls_103_12312021 - Continuing our scramble out of the ravine containing the 'Lower San Juan Falls' to regain the San Juan Loop Trail
Chiquito_Falls_107_12312021 - Back on the San Juan Loop Trail as we continued descending beyond that second switchback after having had our fill of 'Little San Juan Falls'
Chiquito_Falls_110_12312021 - Continuing to hike among some brushes as we were getting closer to San Juan Creek
Chiquito_Falls_112_12312021 - Because of the rains that took place through a good chunk of the month of December, there were still puddles and muddy spots like what's shown in this picture
Chiquito_Falls_116_12312021 - Still continuing our descent on the San Juan Loop Trail towards San Juan Creek and eventually the Chiquito Trail junction during our New Year's Eve 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_120_12312021 - Now that we made it to the bottom of the canyon, we started to see San Juan Creek flowing besides the San Juan Loop Trail up ahead
Chiquito_Falls_123_12312021 - Briefly hiking alongside San Juan Creek, which had fairly appreciable flow during our last day of 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_126_12312021 - Bypassing this false trail, where the sign also discouraged us from going that way
Chiquito_Falls_128_12312021 - Going through more flat hiking before we were about to encounter the Chiquito Trail junction around the bend
Chiquito_Falls_131_12312021 - After getting across San Juan Creek, we then traversed this pretty thick area of vegetation, which was a testament to how much water could typically drain to the bottoms of the canyons in this part of Cleveland National Forest
Chiquito_Falls_140_12312021 - The Chiquito Trail eventually got to this open area where it skirted by a feeder stream.  This shot looked back in the other direction at the feeder stream flowing in the direction of San Juan Creek
Chiquito_Falls_141_12312021 - Context of the Chiquito Trail and the feeder stream as we were still within a mile from our departure from the San Juan Loop Trail
Chiquito_Falls_146_12312021 - Crossing the feeder stream to embark on what would turn out to be a nearly 1000ft ascent in roughly 2 miles
Chiquito_Falls_152_12312021 - The higher we went on the ascent, the more sweeping the views were along the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito_Falls_153_12312021 - Going past this big boulder that was adjacent to the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito_Falls_156_12312021 - Continuing to climb higher on the Chiquito Trail as we were enjoying the peace and quiet as well as the views
Chiquito_Falls_159_12312021 - Going past a few more boulders strewn alongside the upper reaches of the Chiquito Trail during our December 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_161_12312021 - Looking in the distance down at the Ortega Highway from the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito_Falls_170_12312021 - Higher up on the Chiquito Trail, we were going over some water channels from the rains that dug into the path
Chiquito_Falls_177_12312021 - Continuing to climb higher on the Chiquito Trail as it became narrower and a little rockier
Chiquito_Falls_182_12312021 - Still climbing higher on the Chiquito Trail and its increasingly rockier terrain. By this point of the hike, the climb was already feeling pretty long, and I can only imagine how much harder it would be under hotter weather, especially given the sun exposure here
Chiquito_Falls_184_12312021 - A section of the Chiquito Trail that veered more inland towards some interesting desert-like vegetation that reminded me of venus fly traps though they're probably something else
Chiquito_Falls_190_12312021 - Close-up look at one of the bulbous leaves of a tall plant adjacent to the upper reaches of the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito_Falls_193_12312021 - Looking back at the context of that tall plant with some scenery in the background as we were pretty high up the Chiquito Trail at this point, but not quite at the apex yet
Chiquito_Falls_194_12312021 - Going past more fresh water gullies carved by the rushing waters of the recent rains that provided some much needed moisture to this area (as well as California as a whole)
Chiquito_Falls_202_12312021 - Starting to get views of the Ortega Highway from somewhere near the apex of the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito_Falls_204_12312021 - As we had been hiking on the Chiquito Trail for a while, we started to wonder whose scat this was?  A coyote?  Or just someone's dog
Chiquito_Falls_208_12312021 - This was one of the rougher sections of the Chiquito Trail though such spots were few and far between over the nearly 5-mile length (or nearly 10 miles round trip)
Chiquito_Falls_216_12312021 - The Chiquito Trail still climbing on a narrow path that seemed to be prone to erosion (at least in this section)
Chiquito_Falls_221_12312021 - The Chiquito Trail finally about to round a bend leading us into Lion Canyon
Chiquito_Falls_223_12312021 - Finally as we started to enter Lion Canyon, the trail mercifully started to descend
Chiquito_Falls_231_12312021 - A brief uphill before resuming the downhill into Lion Canyon and eventually Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_248_12312021 - Getting our first glimpse of Chiquito Falls across Lion Canyon during our New Year's Eve 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_253_12312021 - This family of 4 was trail running and easily overtook us and got to Chiquito Falls before we did
Chiquito_Falls_254_12312021 - Looking down Lion Canyon as we were approaching Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_255_12312021 - More descending on the Chiquito Trail as we were getting closer to Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_259_12312021 - Finally approaching the brink of Chiquito Falls though it didn't look like it was safe to get to the bottom this way
Chiquito_Falls_261_12312021 - Instead, we backtracked and found this use trail that gently descended towards the creek a short distance downstream from Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_263_12312021 - Scrambling along the creek as we were making our way upstream to the bottom of Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_267_12312021 - Finally arriving at the base of Chiquito Falls, which didn't have a whole lot of flow on our New Year's Eve 2021 visit despite the heavy rains earlier in the week
Chiquito_Falls_268_12312021 - More frontal and contextual look at the Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_283_12312021 - Another look at Chiquito Falls, but this time in long exposure
Chiquito_Falls_292_12312021 - Someone standing above Chiquito Falls for a sense of scale of its rather diminutive stature
Chiquito_Falls_311_12312021 - After having our fill of the base of Chiquito Falls, we then went closer to its brink where we got this context of the rocky cliffs around it
Chiquito_Falls_314_12312021 - Checking out a couple of mountain bikes as some people managed to mountain bike the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito_Falls_323_12312021 - Looking down over a jumble of boulders from somewhere near the brink of Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_033_iPhone_12312021 - Another look at the context of Chiquito Falls in profile as seen from near its brink
Chiquito_Falls_329_12312021 - Looking back at Chiquito Falls in context with the mountain bikers above it as we were making our way back to the trailhead
Chiquito_Falls_343_12312021 - On the way back, we noticed this series of god beams, which made me wonder if they were caused by rain or just thick vapor from the clouds coming in during our late December 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_349_12312021 - The upper reaches of the Chiquito Trail had lots of these interesting boulders, which made us wonder how they even got there in the first place!
Chiquito_Falls_354_12312021 - The nice thing about the return hike from Chiquito Falls was that the long uphill stretch earlier was now a scenically long downhill stretch
Chiquito_Falls_355_12312021 - Even though the clouds looked dark and were threatening to rain on us (the forecast called for only partly cloudy skies), we only got some sprinkles and little else throughout our time on the Chiquito Trail
Chiquito_Falls_359_12312021 - Context of the narrow part of the Chiquito Trail with the Ortega Highway down below in the distance
Chiquito_Falls_364_12312021 - Continuing the scenic descent on the Chiquito Trail as we headed back to the trailhead
Chiquito_Falls_386_12312021 - Descending one of the switchbacks on the Chiquito Trail on the return hike from Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_393_12312021 - Making it back down to the crossing of the feeder stream thereby ending the long descent
Chiquito_Falls_399_12312021 - Continuing to hike back along the feeder stream en route to the San Juan Loop Trail
Chiquito_Falls_401_12312021 - Going around this burnt tree (clear evidence that fires often come through the Cleveland National Forest), but there was also a false trail here that we had inadvertently taken before realizing our mistake and backtracking
Chiquito_Falls_404_12312021 - Context of that false trail to the right that we had taken before realizing our mistake
Chiquito_Falls_413_12312021 - Finally rejoining the San Juan Loop Trail, but instead of keeping right to complete the loop, we opted to go back to the left and return the way we came during our December 31, 2021 visit
Chiquito_Falls_418_12312021 - Context of the San Juan Loop Trail and the San Juan Creek as we were now going back uphill towards San Juan Falls and eventually the trailhead
Chiquito_Falls_424_12312021 - Looking down across San Juan Creek towards what I think is Long Canyon somewhere near the 'Lower San Juan Falls'
Chiquito_Falls_425_12312021 - Going back uphill on the switchbacks as we were returning towards San Juan Falls
Chiquito_Falls_428_12312021 - Still continuing on the return hike along the San Juan Loop Trail somewhere between 'Lower San Juan Falls' and San Juan Falls
Chiquito_Falls_433_12312021 - Making it back to the ravine just downstream of San Juan Falls
Chiquito_Falls_465_12312021 - One last look at San Juan Falls in better lighting in the afternoon before continuing our return hike back to the parking lot
Chiquito_Falls_480_12312021 - Going past this sign and approaching the home stretch before the end of our long out-and-back hike to Chiquito Falls
Chiquito_Falls_485_12312021 - Ascending the remainder of what I think is Decker Canyon before rounding a bend and returning to the San Juan Loop Trailhead parking lot
Chiquito_Falls_486_12312021 - The last of the ascent above San Juan Falls before rounding a bend and returning to the parking lot at the San Juan Loop Trailhead
Chiquito_Falls_491_12312021 - Going past this oak tree (I think) on the way back to the San Juan Loop Trailhead parking lot
Chiquito_Falls_492_12312021 - Finally making it back to the parking lot for the San Juan Loop Trail and thus ending our long day hike to Chiquito Falls and back in New Year's Eve 2021


Chiquito Falls shares the same trailhead as that of San Juan Falls. While you can consult that page for driving directions, I’ll reproduce the directions here for convenience.

There are a couple of ways to reach the San Juan Loop Trailhead – one via Lake Elsinore and another via San Juan Capistrano.

The Drive Via Lake Elsinore

From the Central Ave exit from the I-15 in Lake Elsinore, we drove west (turning left from the off-ramp) on Central Ave for 0.3 miles.

Chiquito_Falls_001_12312021 - Looking towards the entrance of the parking lot at the San Juan Loop Trailhead with the Ortega Oaks Candy Store in the background across the Ortega Highway
Looking towards the entrance of the parking lot at the San Juan Loop Trailhead with the Ortega Oaks Candy Store in the background across the Ortega Highway

Lake Elsinore was about 48 miles north of the I-15/Hwy 78 junction in Escondido and 20 miles south of the I-15/91 Fwy junction in Corona.

We then turned right onto Collier Ave (following the Hwy 74 signs).

After another 0.5-mile on Collier Ave, we then turned left onto Riverside Dr.

We followed Riverside Drive for about 3.2 miles as it bent to the left onto Grand Ave, then we turned right onto the Ortega Hwy (Hwy 74) to the right after another 0.7 miles.

We followed the twisty Ortega Highway for about 9 miles, where the San Juan Trailhead parking lot was on the right (just across from the Ortega Oaks Candy Store).

Chiquito_Falls_003_12312021 - Looking across the San Juan Loop Trailhead Parking Lot towards a restroom facility in case you need to get your business done before setting off
Looking across the San Juan Loop Trailhead Parking Lot towards a restroom facility in case you need to get your business done before setting off

Signs here indicate that a Forest Adventure Pass must be displayed on parked vehicles, which you can buy from the Ortega Oaks Candy Store (provided they don’t run out).

The Drive Via San Juan Capistrano

Going in the opposite direction to the San Juan Loop Trailhead via San Juan Capistrano, we’d drive on the I-5 south before getting off at the Ortega Hwy 74 exit.

Then, we’d turn left and follow the Ortega Highway for nearly 20 miles through a fairly curvy yet high-speed road.

Definitely be careful driving this road because even though people go fast on it, I’d imagine it’s quite easy to get into an accident here due to the blind corners and the tendency for there to be rock falls or mud slides.

Chiquito_Falls_005_12312021 - One thing I noticed about the San Juan Loop Trailhead was that there was this water pump that you can actually use to get some water before setting out.  It can get quite hot and sunny here, especially in the drier months of late spring through fall
One thing I noticed about the San Juan Loop Trailhead was that there was this water pump that you can actually use to get some water before setting out. It can get quite hot and sunny here, especially in the drier months of late spring through fall

Just to give you some geographical context, Lake Elsinore was about 34 miles (under an hour drive) northeast of San Juan Capistrano, about 46 miles (an hour drive) north of Escondido, 47 miles (about an hour drive) east of Irvine, and 70 miles (about 90 minutes drive) southeast of Downtown Los Angeles.

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Checking out Chiquito Falls from a couple of different spots


Back and forth sweep of the profile of Chiquito Falls with some bikers atop the falls for some scale


Sweep of the profile of Chiquito Falls with some surrounding rocks that were like bouldering obstacles nearby

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Tagged with: ortega oaks candy store, san juan capistrano, lake elsinore, lion canyon, riverside county, orange county, ortega highway



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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