Caspers Wilderness Park
Distance: 3.2 miles
Total elevation gain/loss: 200'/200'
Hiking time: 11/2 hours
Optional map: USGS 7.5-min Canada Gobernadora
Best times: All year
Although you're never far from the highway on this trip, the sight and sounds of traffic are usually muted by vegetation and the peculiar topography. East of the highway, the stairstep profiles of the hillsides show the many levels of San Juan Creek's past courses. This route takes you along the best-preserved of these river-terrace formations (explained in Trip 4). Begin at the Ortega Flats picnic area. Pick up the maintenance road to the north which angles toward Ortega Highway. After 0.2 mile you'll see a large culvert on the right. Pass under the highway through this and find the dirt road on the far side. The road follows a pleasant, oak-dotted drainage for a short while, then swings left and climbs out of the drainage.
After a brief climb, you emerge atop the lowest and best-defined of the four terrace levels in this stretch of San Juan Canyon. Wildflowers thrive in silty soil by the trailside during spring and early summer. Beyond the lip of the terrace, the buff-colored cliffs along San Juan Creek form a picturesque backdrop.
Up ahead the terrace is cut by two small ravines, and then by a much bigger break Lucas Canyon. Nearing Lucas Canyon you come to a locked gate; a private inholding in the center of the park lies ahead. At the gate veer left onto a faint footpath leading west down to the highway. Pass under the highway again through a second culvert and your way over to the far side of the open bed Creek. Pick up the Juaneno Trail there and follow it through the oak groves back, toward your starting point. When you reach a pumphouse along the trail, bear right toward the first culvert and return to Ortega Flats picnic area.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication