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The San Juan Creek Trail starts where the creek meets the Pacific Ocean at Doheny State Beach in scenic Dana Point. From there, it runs on the levee along the western bank of San Juan Creek to its confluence with Trabuco Creek at Descanso Park in San Juan Capistrano. It meets the Robert McCollum Memorial Bicycle Trail, also known as the Trabuco Creek Trail (East Bank), here at a trail bridge. Take that short path north to Los Rios Park and beyond.
Alternatively, continue east on the San Juan Creek Trail to reach far eastern neighborhoods of San Juan Capistrano, passing under Interstate 5 and running next to Calle Arroyo along the way. Several horse stables line the trail northeast of I-5, and a parallel soft-surface path for equestrian users runs from just west of La Novia Avenue to trail's end at Avenida Siega.
Parking for the San Juan Creek Trail is available at Doheny State Beach (25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive) in Dana Point, but a daily parking fee applies. Additional parking can be found at several trailside parks in Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano, including Del Obispo Park (34052 Del Obispo Street), Creekside Park (25743 Stonehill Drive) and C. Russell Cook Park (Calle Arroyo and La Novia Avenue).
I suspect this trail is especially popular with the surrounding community. I know if I lived there I'd be cruising down to the beach every day on it! For a couple of out of towners, it was well worth the time we put into exploring it.
After spending the night in Dana Point's bluff hugging Blue Lantern Inn, we parked the car and unloaded the bikes in Dana Point Marina's Baby Beach parking lot so we could enjoy pedaling around the quiet marina streets as well as the San Juan Creek Trail.
After cruising over to Doheny State Beach to the trailhead, we began our trek along the bank of the creek. For the most part it's a nice, fairly quiet ride. On the way up, we took a detour and explored the Trabuco Creek Trail as well as Old Historic San Juan Capistrano.
The San Juan Creek Trail eventually concluded in a somewhat rural area of ranches and equestrian centers. After cruising back down to the trailhead, I must say it's pretty cool to relax on the beach in the cool, salty air and to bask in the sun.
I rode this trail to accumulate latitude for my cross country (Canada to Mexico) trails only bike ride. The Salt Creek Trail connects up with the Monarch Trail. The trail is a great riding surface and is picturesque heading to the ocean along a golf course. It is a short trail (6 miles) that should be extended. Signage could be better. It appears these trails are not former railroad right a way but the elevation change is not an issue.
It has been a while since we were down here last and it's looking better.
We were promised afternoon temperatures in the 80s, so a return to San Juan Creek seemed a good idea. There should be a sea breeze and cooler temps than inland trails. A morning ride and gone before the heat sets in was the plan. Free waterfront parking was found in the Dana Point Marina and the trike unfolded and equipped.
As reported, they have finished the work on the trail. It's wide open and doing a nice business. The plan was to ride the SJC to the confluence and get onto the Trabuco Creek Trail to Los Rios Park. However, they are doing construction at the Del Obsipo bridge (looks like a new lane addition) so the trail is blocked at city hall.
Detour onto the street and ride up to Los Rios Park. This backs onto the Los Rios Historic District (old and older housing - now mostly cafes and shoppes), which is work a look. In looking I found what my pet cactus might be if he were not in a large pot: a cactus about 25' tall.
Back down the trail - to find the sea breeze on the make. You may wish to trailhead at Los Rios and ride to the beach, coming back with a tail wind. The winds start to fill in after 10 AM.
Beating the heat back home. Siesta time!
The construction is over and the trail is in great shape! Starting at the Doheney State Beach Main Lifeguard Tower, the trail follows the San Juan Creek Trail (on the north side of the creek). You will go under Pacific Coast Highway, past the wastewater treatment plant, baseball fields, a cross-training excersise/fitness course, playground with dog park, and to the Trabuco Creek Bridge, where you have to cross. At the other side of the bridge, you have two choices. You can turn left and go about a mile untill the trail ends at the low income housing complex. Or you can turn off the trail after about half a mile or so and go to the charming Old Town San Juan Capistrano. Nice restaurants & boutiques.
The other choice is to turn right. The trail goes under Interstate 5 (where you can contemplate this freeway bridge's capacity to withstand a large earthquake). When you reach Calle Arroyo, the train continues to your right. Go past the horse corral and after La Novia Ave., the trail continues on the southeast side of the intersection. The trail continues for about a mile thru the the wooded Cook Park. I was there yesterday. On the way back through Cook Park, I noticed a stick in the trail. My insticts told me to stop. Sure enough, it was a large snake crossing the path. It wasn't a rattle snake, but there are signs in the park warning of rattle snakes.
From inside Doheney State Beach Park, you can go over the street bridge (over San Juan Creek), following the park road to the south. You wil go past the campground. You will be riding in a long parking lot alongside the ocean. At the Capistrano Beach County Park you can follow a protected (K-rail) bike path all the way to South San Clemente. On the way, you should cross the street at Camino Capistrano (where the Arco Station is) and follow the k-rail protected (two way) path on the left side of the street.
I liked the San Juan Trail from the ocean to the confluence of San Juan Creek and Trabuco Creek at Descanso Park in San Juan Capistrano. It runs along the west bank levee of the creek – which is engineered for flood control in this section. I found it boring above the I-5 where it runs along a street, then thru a greenbelt and along the stable district.
The creek was not engineered enough for flood control. I seem to recall that they had done the banks on the cheap – concrete bank liners, but not a full liner across the entire stream bed as you see in the Santa Ana River. Scouring at the base undermined the liner and the levee failed in sections.
They are doing some years of upgrades in one section – installing sheet pilings and then building a trail atop them. They had issues in 1997 – which was a wet year. Factiod: 12/6/1997 – San Diego Creek in Irvine was logged at 43,500 cubic feet per second of flow. Normal is 15 cfps. They had blowouts in 2005. You will recall 2004/05 was One Wet Winter. Here are some YouTube videos of the 2005 flood:
KCAL 9 report…
Video of the banks falling in…
There is a trail closure in this section with gates and detours and such. However, when I surveyed the trail (not on a working day) one gate was ajar enough for a bike or ped and the other had a pass around. The locals were in there, riding or walking, so in went the TrailBear.
This .pdf explains and shows the detour. The city has additional information.
Once it passed under the I-5 freeway, the SJCT got boring. It pulls away from the creek, which is rather native here – a real wild barranca full of bushes and trees. You will not see the trail again. It turns into bike/walks for a while, then dives into a green belt and runs thru it to end at the Missions Stables.
A boring trail survey was a new experience for me. I kept thinking … Can I do this on Google Earth? No, you will miss a water fountain or such. Yes, there was a water fountain waiting ahead. Yes, I have the GPS coordinates of it and the adjacent restroom. No, I would not purchase a home across the street from a quarter miles of stables along the creek.
A better ride would be to take the SJCT to the confluence and then go up the Trabuco Creek Trail.
TRAIL RIDE VIDEOS
There are some trail ride videos on YouTube worth looking at if you are considering doing the trail.
Riding from the confluence upstream to the first stable…
Trailhead at the confluence…
The West Trabuco looks like a nice ride. Here is the upper section…
TRAILBEAR GOES UP THE CREEK, MILE BY MILE…
MILES ELEV. NOTES – milages are a bit long as the side rides to check trailheads are added in.
0.00 19’ At the two story life guard station in the SE corner of Doheny State Beach. The trail starts here and there is a restroom and water. Nice ocean views.
0.44 40’ Del Obisbo Park side trail. You can use DOP as a trailhead. Usual parking (free), restrooms and water. Full service trailhead.
1.43 56 Creekside Park off Stonehill Dr. Another nice, full service trailhead. The parks runs for some distance along the trail. Includes a dog park.
1.90 63’ Closed for Construction barricade – which was open at this time.
2.77 78’ The other construction barricade – passable.
3.05 89’ The ped only bridge over Trabuco Creek. You are supposed to walk your bikes over.
3.13 91’ Descanco Park, just above the confluence. Nice little park that can be a trail head.
3.55 95’ The back of the Von’s parking lot just beyond the RR underpass. There is a ramp to the trail. Another handy trailhead. Next you pass under the I-5 freeway and away from the creek on the other side. Bit farewell to the creek. You will not see it again. Now there are distance views of stables. Boring begins.
4.87 119’ C. Russell Cook Park in San Juan Capistrano. Full service trailhead. You have been riding a bike/walk along Calle Arroyo to get here. At the top of the park the trail dives into a greenbelt with numerous side trails into the ‘hood.
5.70 141’ Here is that water fountain that would have been missed on Google Earth. Restrooms a bit further along.
6.00 144’ Exit the park and ride alongside a quarter mile long stable complex. Breath deep.
6.15 154’ Trail ends at Missions Trails Stables, 28432 Calle Arroyo, SJC.
There is an equestrian trail that runs along the creek behind the stables. You can see it on Google Earth. It is a possible loop-back ride.
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