The Main Divide of the Santa Ana Mountains follows a significant Southern California watershed division, and also quite closely marks the Orange/Riverside county line. On the divide, you can often spot both the Pacific Ocean and the 10,000-foot-plus summits of the interior San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains.
The most pleasant, if not the shortest, way to hike or mountain bike up to the Main Divide from the east is by way of Indian Truck Trail, which passes through Cleveland National Forest territory. Open intermittently to motor-vehicle traffic, the unpaved truck trail features easy grades throughout, considerable shade during the winter months, and consistently good views. Hikers and mountain bikers have it all to themselves whenever the vehicle gate at the bottom end is closed and locked -- typically when winter storms render the roadway unsafe for cars or trucks.
Trivial as a traffic artery, the Indian Truck Trail nevertheless merits its own name on a full interchange with Interstate 15. The Indian Truck Trail exit ramps are 11 miles south of Corona and 8 miles north of Lake Elsinore.
Once you exit I-15, proceed 0.1 mile west to a T-intersection with Campbell Ranch Road. Turn right and go 0.4 mile to Mayhew Canyon Road on the left. Follow Mayhew Canyon Road 0.4 mile west into the Sycamore Creek housing development, which is taking shape on the left. Signs installed by the developer direct drivers south through the construction zone toward Indian Truck Trail. You reach the Cleveland National Forest boundary at a point 0.8 mile south of Mayhew Canyon Road. Once inside the forest boundary, there's parking space along the old Indian Truck Trail roadway. Don't forget to post a National Forest Adventure Pass on your parked car.
On foot or by bike, ascend gradually for about 0.4 mile and come to a road fork. A private road into a Korean church camp bears left; you stay right on the Indian Truck Trail. A vehicle gate, which may or may not be locked shut for autos, lies just ahead.
Your ascent quickens as Indian Truck Trail curls up the divide between Indian and Mayhew canyons. After about three miles in the sun, Indian Truck Trail makes a decided switch to the cool, north side of the ridge. Ferns grow in profusion along the shady road cuts, and the spreading limbs of live oaks and big-cone Douglas firs frame a beautiful view of the Temescal Valley and the San Bernardino Mountains.
After about five miles, Indian Truck Trail traverses somewhat drier slopes, mantled with dense growths of manzanita and ceanothus and dotted with Coulter pines. In the final two switchback legs, the road climbs to a saddle, joining (at about 6.5 miles) Main Divide Road. Here you can look southwest toward the hills of southern Orange County and the coastline. On clear winter afternoons the glimmer of sunlight on the ocean's surface is breathtaking.
You've climbed about 2600 feet of elevation from the edge of the housing development, and your return trip is downhill virtually the whole way.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.