Cleveland National Forest

Quick Facts

Cleveland National Forest


(858) 673-6180

Map Directions

Things To Do


The Cleveland National Forest is an important recreation resource for the people of southern California. An estimated 20 million people live within a two-hour drive. The forest offers diversity of scenery, wilderness solitude, and lots of recreation opportunities. The most popular activities in the forest are camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, picnicking, and scenic driving. Designated a National Forest in 1908, Cleveland National Forest is the southern-most forest in California. With over 560,000 thousand acres the forest provides an amazing and scenic place for visitors. The forest is comprised of three segments administered as ranger districts, the Palomar, Descanso, and Trabuco districts.. The forest extends from within five miles of the border with Mexico northward approximately 130 miles to Orange and Riverside counties. The forest is a haven for wildlife and plants. The wild shrub and tree-covered mountains are remnants of a landscape that at one time covered most of southern California. With the settling of missions, towns, cities, and suburbs, populated areas now surround the mountains. Diverse lands in the forest provide habitat for many wildlife species such as mountain lion, bobcat, mule deer, coyote, gray fox, ringtail cat, long tail weasel, opossum, blacktail jackrabbits, desert cottontails, California ground squirrel, and many other small species. The forest includes three mountain ranges: the Santa Ana, Palomar, and Laguna (Cuyamaca) Mountains. They are part of the Peninsular Range, which extends for 800 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains to Baja California. Farther to the north and east are the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains. Worldfamous Mount Palomar is one of the viewpoints along the crestline, where, on a clear day, you can see views of both desert and coastal California.

Map of Cleveland Nat'l Forest

Latitude, Longitude: 32.832256, -116.646961



  • Bicycling

    Biking is allowed on the trails in the forest except in the designated Wilderness Areas and on the Pacific Crest Trail. The Trabuco Ranger District, the San Juan Loop, Holy Jim, and San Juan trails as well as the Maple Springs Road are popular.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    A number of scenic state and county roads cross the Cleveland National Forest.The Ortega Highway (Highway 74), runs for 30 miles between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano. It is a winding road with great views, allow for plenty of time traveling through the National Forest. The Highway to the Stars leads to the top of Palomar Mountain, the home of the worldfamous Palomar Observatory. From Highway 76, take the sevenmile South Grade Road which climbs 2600 feet with lots of 180 degree turns. To return, you can take East Grade Road, which covers the same elevation in just over 11 miles and most of the turns are not as tight. The Sunrise National Scenic Byway extends from Interstate 8 near Pine Valley, north through the Laguna Mountains to State Route 79 near the town of Julian. The 24 mile route winds through mountain meadows, pine and oak forests, and chaparral.

    Scenic driving is one of the most popular recreation activities. The Sunrise Scenic Byway winds for 24 miles through the forest. Some of the highlights of the byway are stunning mountain meadows, beautiful panoramas and the Laguna Recreation Area. Its diversity and striking surroundings make Sunrise a popular San Diego County byway.

    Driving on forest service roads are also popular. Most of the forest service roads in the Cleveland National Forest are single lane dirt roads with few turnouts. These roads were all originally designed and constructed as Fire Truck Trails by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and are commonly steeper with more curves than public highways, and more importantly, they were designed and constructed to be single lane roads. Of the 400 miles of roads on the Cleveland National Forest, only 50 miles are paved. These are also steep, winding mountain roads with few turnouts, but can be easily driven in a passenger car. .

  • Camping

    Cleveland National Forest offers 632 campsites, 15 family campgrounds and seven group campgrounds. Campgrounds are available in the Descanso, Palomar, and Trabuco Ranger District. Most sites are on a first come, first- served basis while others require reservations. Developed campgrounds have services and facilities and fees are charged. Recreation passes are not required in these areas. Many developed campgrounds are only open in certain seasons, so be sure to check their opening and closing dates.

    Remote camping is also available. Check at the local Ranger Station for directions to an undeveloped camping area, and obtain your free overnight visitor's permit. The required permit allows the use of campstoves in remote areas.

  • Fishing

    Fishing is a popular activity at the Loveland Reservoir. The reservoir is owned and operated by Sweetwater Authority, a pubic water agency. The reservoir stores drinking water for more than 175,000 residents of Chula Vista, National City and Bonita, California. Fishing access is limited to posted areas between sunrise and sunset only. Catfish, Bluegill, Bass and Red-Eared Sunfish can be found in the reservoir .

    Streams in the Cleveland National Forest are small and some are dry during the summer months. Trabuco Creek, on the west side of the Santa Ana Mountains offers fishing at certain times of the year. A California fishing license is required.

  • Hiking

    With thousands of feet in elevation change and vegetation, along with an abundance of wildlife, the 356 miles of trails in Cleveland National Forest provide a great experience for the beginner and the most experienced hiker. The best season for hiking is during the cooler fall, winter, and spring months. Many trails travel through the open chapparal and get very hot in the summer. Summer hiking should be done in early morning hours on designated trails that offer shade.

  • Historic Sites

    The Visitor Information Center is located 40 miles east of San Diego on Interstate 8, then 10 miles north on Sunrise Highway (S1). Nestled among pines in the village of Mt. Laguna, the VIC is a source of information for the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area.

    The VIC has a variety of wildlife displays including a stuffed mountain lion, coyote, eagle and foxes. Here, kids can touch and see the furry, feathered and four-legged local residents. They can peer into a woodpecker nest hidden in a detachable tree stump, or count the age rings in a cross-cut section of a big old pine trunk. The VIC is a welcome place to rest in the shade of the pines after a hot summer hike, or warm yourself by the fire after a day of playing in the snow. Plenty of local and regional maps as well as books and gift items are stocked and available for purchase.

  • Horseback Riding

    Horseback riding is permitted on all forest roads and specified trails as indicated in this visitor guide.

  • Hunting

    The Cleveland National Forest is open to hunting in the pursuit of birds and game according to the current season schedule and hunting regulations set by the California Department of Fish and Game. Copies of current regulations may be obtained from the Department of Fish and Game, local Forest Service offices or sporting goods stores. In addition to your hunting license, when you park on National Forest Land you will need to have a National Forest Adventure Pass.

  • Picnicking

    There are seven picnic areas found throughout the forest. Most are on a first come, first- served basis. There are a few sites where a daily fee is charged. Accessible sites are also available.

  • RVing

    A number of scenic state and county roads cross the Cleveland National Forest. Remember that many people traveling them are out for the scenery and not speed. If you are in a hurry, pick an alternate route!


The forest is open year-round.

Park Partners

Outdoor Outreach

(619) 238-5790



Located north and east of sunny San Diego, this forest is readily accessible from many routes.


Cleveland National Forest is located less than an hours drive from San Diego International Forest

Phone Numbers


(858) 673-6180


(619) 593-2183


(619) 593-2183