Not all good hikes are scenic

This one in San Clemente deserves a closer look, especially when options are limited.

A forest emergency closure was extended to Sept. 22 this week for the Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino forests. That’s why I recently found myself on a trail I wouldn’t normally choose: Peaceful Valley Trail in San Clemente. My son wanted to take his mountain bike for a spin, and I wanted to get an outdoor cardio workout, the closer to the beach (and cooler temperatures), the better.

At first, Peaceful Valley trail seems anything but peaceful. It’s basically four miles of fire road used by mountain bikers to access single-track trails with names like Holeshot and Gully. It is not unusual to see a bike or two flying across the trail in front of you like a colony of blurry jackrabbits. You’ll see more rows of transmission towers than the Coulter pines you’ll find in our (closed) national forests. You can also expect to hear random and unsettling booms in the background, courtesy of the artillery training often going on at Camp Pendleton across the street.

Yet the more I walked, the more the trail grew on me. It has gradual elevation gains and the paths are maintained well enough. The trails are unmarked, but it’s nearly impossible to get lost, meaning I never had to break stride to check my phone or a map. Signs of nature occasionally poked through: I saw hummingbirds and butterflies buzzing around the few clusters of wildflowers that hadn’t withered in the heat. I never saw the ocean, but I felt its familiar salty breeze on much of the trail and knew it was close. I also had an unexpected brush with state history: a view from the south side of the trail of a large white cross across Cristianitos Canyon. Nearby is the site of the first baptism in California, which took place near the Native American Panhe village in 1769. It’s worth reading Gustavo Arellano’s L.A. Times column about it.

I only saw one other person on foot, a trail runner who also seemed to be lost in her own world.

I don’t know if I’ll rush to revisit Peaceful Valley, but I’m glad I hiked it and I might return in the spring when wildflowers promise to cover the dusty brown hills. It was a glimpse into a part of Southern California I don’t get to very often, and was more satisfying and interesting than trudging around a local track to get exercise.

Tip: Free parking is available at the east end of Avenida La Pata near the dog parks.

#hiking #orangecounty #moderatehikes #peacefulplaces #socalhiking #pandemichiking #hikingwithamountainbiker #coastalhikes #sanonofrestatebeach #californiahistory

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