Santiago Peak (Saddleback) via Holy Jim Trail

Santiago Peak - Saddleback

Growing up in Orange County everyone knows old Saddleback Mountain, or Saddlecrack as we refer to it. It looms off in the distance and you can see it from just about anywhere on the 5 freeway going north out of San Clemente. It is the tallest peak in Orange County and its real name is Santiago Peak. Santiago resides in the Santa Ana Mountains north of the 74 Ortega Highway.

We live on the west side of the mountains so the preferred method of hiking to the top starts at the Holy Jim Trailhead out in Rancho Santa Margarita. It can get very hot in the summer months so we opted to leave just before sunrise to try and beat the heat.

Here are the specs from the Holy Jim Trailhead parking lot:

  • Distance: 16.2 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,000+
  • Time: 7 hours with breaks
  • Water: There is a small spring we saw, but I wouldn’t depend on it. Bring 3 liters or more.
Moonset near the switchbacks

Moonset near the switchbacks

The trail breaks down into a few sections. The first part you will need to walk through the residential area for a half mile. Then take the Holy Jim Trail that runs up to Holy Jim Falls. You will break off to the left where the trail splits. To the right is Holy Jim Falls and to the left is the trail that leads up to the Main Divide Road. After heading up through the switchbacks you will traverse a bit. Around the 4 mile marker there is a great view through the canyon. After a short downhill section you’ll make one final jaunt uphill to the Main Divide Road. Take a left at the Main Divide Road and another three miles of steady uphill will get you the the top. I have heard of some trail guides taking you on another route through Upper Holy Jim Trail, but we couldn’t locate it as the sign pointing to it literally pointed into a bunch of bushes. You may have better luck that we did. We stayed to the left and on the truck trail. We really started to feel the burn once we hit the truck trail. You can see the antennas on top and they look so close which made this section feel a lot longer.

Once you arrive at the top you will have your choice of concrete pads to rest on and if it’s a weekday you should see quite a few service work trucks up on top. You can see a long way on a clear day, it was cloudy when we were up top so we couldn’t see out to the ocean. You have to walk around the peak to take it all in through the antennas and towers.

There was a small spring running from the mountain right around the 4.3 mile mark, we could have filled up there but we brought plenty of water. This is a great hike to test your stamina, it is a very steady 4,000ft elevation gain and your knees will be ready to take a rest when you get back down.

 

Santiago Peak

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  • Allie

    Looks like a rad hike! I def want to do that someday!!