Hiking: Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail, CA

Let me start off by saying I am using the term “hiking” really loosely here. This is definitely more of a walk. But, I have learned that different people have different definitions of hiking, so keeping with the theme of my site, we’ll go out on a limb and call it “hiking.”

This trail is located in the hilly neighborhoods of San Clemente, CA, and as the name would suggest, follows a ridgeline with million dollar homes on one side and dry rolling hills on the other. The trail is paved with small dirt side trails for mountain bikers or hikers.

Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail at a Glance

  • Trailhead – 721 Avenida Salvador, San Clemente, CA
  • Roundtrip Distance – 5.7 miles total out and back
  • Time – 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Elevation Gain – 784 feet
  • Pet Friendly – Yes, on leash
  • Parking – Neighborhood

To get here, take I-5 to exit 76 Ave Pico and head east. After 1/2 mile, turn right on Ave Presidio. You’ll go up through the neighborhood and in just over a mile, go left at the stop on Ave Salvador. After another half a mile, you will see the trailhead (gate) on the left at 721 Avenida Salvador. The gate is in between some houses, but if you look for the watertower at the top of the hill, you won’t be able to miss it.

Gate that leads to the Rancho San Clement Ridgeline Trail. Pass through the gate to the right.

There is not a ton of parking in this neighborhood, so I would recommend coming early and being respectful of the residents here and not parking directly in front of anyone’s house.

After you find a place to park, walk through the gate to the right, and you will immediately begin your ascent up the paved service road toward the watertower. At the top of the short but steep hill the trail will open up and you’ll be on the ridgeline. From here, it is pretty straightforward and you can follow the trail as long or as short as you like. Today, we went to about 1.2 miles before we turned around and headed back. There are definitely some ups and downs on this trail and the dogs were ready to have their breakfast. We were also slightly disappointed that this was designated as a “hike,” but was really nothing more than another paved service road. Some guy in front of us was wearing a nice buttoned shirt and flip flops to give you an example. No hiking shoes required.

Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline with houses on one side and rolling hills on the other.

Overall, I would say this is an “okay” trail if you are looking for an easily accessible walk in southern Orange County. It isn’t very adventurous and when we went at the end of January, it was just a lot of brown rolling hills with homes dotting one side. I am sure it is more picturesque when the wildflowers bloom, and we will definitely make a point to return then.

Happy trials!

Rancho San Clemente Ridgeline Trail is pretty dead this time of year. We will be back in the Spring!
Peek of the ocean from the ridgeline on a semi-clear day.

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