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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At 3.3 miles we reached the canyon floor. A mostly dry creek ran along our left, and lush, sylvan oaks shaded the trail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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|
|Total Ascent:||650 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Fees/Permits:||Adventure Pass required at both trailheads|