I first hiked San Juan Capistrano’s Flag Hill and Patriot Trail in 2010 with my sis on a rare day without the kids. She called it the Flagpole Hike.
It was muddy after a rain and we got up the hill, to the flagpole, and back down in about an hour and half. I just hiked it again in January with the kids and my husband under drier conditions.
Directions to Flagpole Hike Trailhead: We took Interstate 5 to San Juan Capistrano. Take the Camino Capistrano exit. If you are traveling from the south, the offramp leads almost straight up the hill on San Juan Creek Road. Turn right on La Novia and right again on Via Cerro Rebal. (You’ll pass lots of trailheads on the way, but the one on Via Cerro Rebal is the one my sis showed me). Park on the street and head up the fire road. MAP TO SJC FLAG HILL – FLAGPOLE HIKE (PARKING)
The VIEWS are amazing! Pick a clear day and you can see for miles up to the mountains and out to the sea.
We loved watching the birds and looking for animal tracks. We heard and saw plenty of hawks and turkey vultures, plus coyote and deer tracks and scat.
If you’re an experienced hiker with older kids, there are a number of trails that lead off this one. There’s a pretty detailed trail map at the head of the Cerro Rebal Trail which turns into the Las Ramblas Trail. CLICK HERE for the City of San Juan Capistrano Trail Map.
The trail is pretty self-explanatory. You’ll hike up a pretty steep fire road with loose gravel.
Your cue to look for the Patriot Trail is when the trail levels out and you are heading toward the back side of the hill – go to your RIGHT begin the Patriot Trail.
If you don’t see the Patriot Trail sign pretty soon after taking your right, you may have made a wrong turn.
Then just stay on the trail until you reach the flag and see the views of Dana Point and the ocean.
Tips for Families Hiking the Patriot Trail
Give yourself plenty of time (at least 2-3 hours if you have small children) so you can walk slow and take it all in. It’s no fun to rush when you are on a hike. When I hike with my sister only, it takes about an hour.
There’s a steep hill and loose footing at the start. Once you get up on the hill, it flattens out. So you just need to encourage the kids up that first hill. The beautiful views help — and pointing out wildlife and the San Juan Capistrano Mission.
Bring lots of water and snacks for the kids. They’ll want it.
Also, bring a jacket. It gets windy up there! Here’s what I pack in our ADVENTURE BACKPACK.
Do-able with a jogger stroller, but I wouldn’t really recommend because of that steep hill and loose footing at the start.
There are tons of trails leading up to the flagpole. I’ve only tried one other – on the way down. I’d suggest sticking to the same way up and down until you’ve done the hike a couple times and get your bearings.
You can hook up to a number of trails once you get up here, including making it a loop by taking the Forster Canyon Trail back to La Novia and walking on sidewalks back to your car. But, again, just go out and back on your first attempt so you can get an idea of where to go.
- Animal control told us they’ve been called to the area for mountain lion sightings
- Rattlesnakes in the summertime (a good strategy is to “sandwich” the kids – one adult walks in front and one in back to watch for hazards)
- There can be trail damage and sink holes from heavy rains. It can make it fun hiking on the crevasses and peering into the big holes, but definitely mind your footing. It seems like an easy hike on a fire road, but make sure you stay aware of your surroundings.
More Family Hikes:
- Read Brian and Ashley’s Hiking Blog – they started their blog a bit before I did and it’s grown into a great local resource. Here’s their directions to Flag Hill (maybe a little outdated since it’s from 2011 – but the hike hasn’t changed much).
- Check out Quail Hill Loop Trail in Irvine for another family-friendly nature hike.
- See my post on more family walks in Orange County
Originally published in March 2011.