The no-nonsense climb (2200 feet of elevation gain) to Bedford Peak, one of the principal summits along the Santa Ana Mountains’ “Main Divide,” is both physically demanding and scenically rewarding. The latter is especially true during certain periods of time — October through March, when clear, dry air prevails over the Southern California region.
To get to the trailhead in Silverado Canyon, exit either of Orange County’s eastern toll roads (Highway 241 or 261) at Santiago Canyon Road. Drive six miles east to Silverado Canyon Road, turn left, and drive east into Silverado Canyon. You’ll pass the sites of Carbondale and Silverado, boom towns that popped up in response to coal and silver strikes in the late 1870s. After population in the area peaked at around a thousand, boom turned to bust by 1883 as the nearby coal ledges and silver-ore bodies were depleted. Today, a fair number of people have returned; Silverado Canyon Road is lined with attractive homes and cabins. Proceed a total of 5.4 miles on Silverado Canyon Road to the forest gate (which may or may not be closed and locked to keep out vehicles) at the east end of the community of Silverado Canyon. Park near here, and be sure to post a National Forest Adventure Pass on your parked car.
On foot now, continue uphill past the vehicle gate into Silverado Canyon. In about 300 yards, just after crossing the alder-shaded bottom of the canyon, turn sharply to the left (west) on the old roadbed that climbs sharply up the north wall of the canyon. This is the Silverado Trail (Silverado Motorway on older maps), built originally for fire control, then used for a while by four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. It is now severely eroded in places, but suitable enough for hiking.
Eventually, you swing right at a junction and follow the top of a ridge on a wide track striking northeast, toward the Main Divide. On reaching Main Divide Road (2.9 miles from the start), turn right, continue 0.3 mile, then walk up the rounded 3800-foot summit of Bedford Peak on the right. There’s no place to rest comfortably on the open summit, but the view — from the Pacific coast to the peaks of the Peninsular Ranges — can be stupendous on a clear day.
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.
Climb to the crest of the Santa Ana Mountains for a stupendous view.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 105 miles
Biking length: 6.6 miles (round-trip)