Noble Canyon

The Noble Canyon trail is very popular among mountain bikers due to its challenging, technical descents and beautiful scenery. If you don’t mind dodging bikers, and can arrange a car at either end, it also makes for an epic 10 mile hike through a variety of ecosystems. The trail begins among the pines and meadows of Laguna Mountain, travels down through an oak-lined, riparian creekside, and then traverses an arid, rocky canyon down into Pine Valley. North to south is the preferred direction of travel, since its mostly downhill.

Since this is a point to point hike, we both drove separately to the southern trailhead in Pine Valley where I left my car. We then took our other car up the Sunrise Highway to Mount Laguna and parked at the Penny Pines trailhead.

The start of the Noble Canyon trail was on the west side of the road. We passed through a metal gate beneath a canopy of pine trees.20150208Noble Canyon_DSC2883-Edit

Just a few hundred feet up the trail, the Big Laguna trail split off to the left. We continued straight along the Noble Canyon trail. Two mountain bikers, the first of many we’d encounter, passed us here.20150208NobleCanyonDSC_6778

The trail climbed gently as we wound through thick ceanothus and the occasional pine. In the far north, we could just make out the distant peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. We were gaining impressive views of the Laguna Valley and Garnet Peak to the northeast.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2909-Edit

Around 1.1 miles, we crossed the number 5 branch of the Big Laguna Trail.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2922-Edit

Continuing on the Noble Canyon trail, we found a few intermittent pines, but it was still mostly manzanita and ceanothus.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2930-Edit

At 1.4 miles we crossed Pine Creek road.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2933-Edit

From here the trail wrapped around through more chaparral with the occasional pine. At 1.7 miles the trail began to make a short, rocky ascent before leveling off again.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2943-Edit

We made our way through the manzanita and other brush and around 2.3 miles we came to an intersection with the Indian Creek trail. We stayed left on the Noble Canyon trail through more ceanothus and chaparral.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2951-Edit

After a bit, we began to notice more pine and oak trees along the trail. Soon we were descending steeply down a long switchback, making our way towards the canyon below.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2962-Edit

Right around 3.0 miles we crossed a paved road and picked the trail up again on the other side, still going downhill. From here, the trail meandered down into the canyon.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2974-Edit
At 3.3 miles we reached the canyon floor. A mostly dry creek ran along our left, and lush, sylvan oaks shaded the trail.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC2977-Edit

For the next 1.5 mile or so, the leaf littered trail wound through a shady oak and pine woodland.20150208NobleCanyonDSC_6832

The trail eventually crossed the small trickle of the creek we’d been following.20150208NobleCanyonDSC_6840

Shortly thereafter, we emerged from the cover of the oaks and descended an exposed, steep rocky slope for about 1/4 mile. The rocky canyon fell away to our right, and the vegetation along the dry, exposed slopes of the canyonside briefly transitioned to prickly pear cactus and yucca.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3020-Edit

As abruptly as they appeared, the cacti disappeared as we once again reached the cover of the trees. We heard the unusual sound of running water, and soon reached a stream crossing. The water here wasn’t deep, but it was somewhat wide as far as San Diego water crossings go. It’s possible this could actually have a somewhat significant flow during a wet year. But in year 4 of a drought, it was a simple matter to step across a few rocks and reach the other side. We paused here for a break as large pack of mountain bikers passed us.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3034-Edit

The trail continued along, roughly following the course of the creek on our right.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3040-Edit

Around 6 miles we made another creek crossing, this one even more shallow than the last.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3077-Edit

From here, the trail made its way up the hillside and we soon found ourselves far above the canyon below. Looking down into the gorge, we could barely discern a small trickle of water. The trail was hot and exposed up here, especially in contrast to the shady creekside canyon we’d been enjoying earlier. Another group of mountain bikers came upon us, and we had to backtrack about 10 feet to find a spot on the trail wide enough that I was comfortable stepping to the side to let them pass.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3091-Edit

Around 6.3 miles the trail began to descend, and we found an old mine shaft just off the trail on our right.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3103-Edit

The trail continued along the exposed hillside high above the canyon below for another mile or so.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3128-Edit

At 7.2 miles the trail briefly descended down to the creek again, only to climb back up again almost immediately.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3150-Edit

Once again we began to descend and at 7.5 miles the trail made a hairpin turn and bent towards the creek.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3158-Edit

Another small creek crossing brought us to some more oaks.20150208NobleCanyonDSC_6905

We then began a steady but gradual uphill climb through manzanita, some of which were blooming. Bits of white blossom littered the ground like snow beneath the bushes. Intermittent patches of oak trees provided brief stretches of shade.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3178-Edit

At 9.1 miles we crested a hill then began down an exposed and rocky descent.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3193-Edit

At 9.3 miles we noticed a steep side trail branching off to the left, but continued to the right. We soon came upon an enormous field of ribbonwood bushes lining both sides of the trail.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3205-Edit

The trail wound down the hillside through a variety of trees and brush. Before long, we began to catch glimpses of the Pine Valley trailhead below us through the vegetation.20150208NobleCanyon_DSC3217-Edit

We made our way down the rocky trail, through more blooming manzanita, and finally reached the parking lot of the Lower Noble Canyon trailhead.20150208NobleCanyonDSC_6940

View the full photo gallery

Southern trailhead (leave one car here): From I-8 east take the Pine Valley exit and turn left onto Pine Valley Road. Turn left onto Old Highway 80. After 1.2 miles, make a sharp right onto Pine Creek Road. Follow Pine Creek Road for 1.6 miles to the Noble Canyon trailhead on your right. Follow the Forest Service road a short way to the parking area. map

Northern trailhead (begin hiking here): From I-8 east take the Sunrise Highway exit and turn left onto Sunrise Highway (S1). Follow Sunrise Highway for approximately 13.8 miles to the Penny Pines trailhead where you can park on either side of the road. map

Total Distance: 10.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Total Ascent: 650 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: Adventure Pass required at southern (Pine Valley) trailhead

For more information, visit:
Cleveland National Forest – Noble Canyon Trail
Laguna Mountain Volunteer Association
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area Map
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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