Chiquito Falls, named after former ranger Kenneth Munhall’s horse, was an ideal opportunity to see a seasonal waterfall, however, in recent years the falls have all but dried up. Now, what remains is the opportunity to rock climb and see plenty of Great Basin Fence Lizards along the way. Despite the water shortage, the 9-mile out and back hike to Chiquito Falls is still worth exploring for its beautiful scenery and grueling workout.
The Chiquito Falls trail is located in the expansive Cleveland National Forest near Lake Elsinore. Near the road’s summit lies the Ortega Country Cottage Candy Store, where over the years sightseers have breathlessly burst in to report accidents and sightings from the highway. The trailhead picks up in a large parking lot across the street from the candy store.
There are a few trailheads here, but the one you’ll want to take is the San Juan Loop Trail in the northeast corner of the parking lot. This hike is a 9 mile out-and-back route with nearly 3,000′ of vertical elevation gain. And it’s a waterfall two-fer. You not only get the beautiful serenity of Chiquito Falls at the turnaround point, but you’ll also soak in San Juan Falls en route.
The hike begins by paralleling the highway until you come to the San Juan Falls, which is more than likely, the only waterfall that will be flowing. This gorge is dramatic and a short distance from the trailhead, which is a great way to start. From here, it follows the river down a significant amount of elevation for about a mile. This part is shady and has chaparral and Coastal Oaks with some hints of the inland desert.
Make sure to take enough water as most of this hike is in the direct sun.