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Roller Coaster Ridge Trail

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Pacific vista

Technically speaking, there is no trail or ridge officially named The Roller Coaster, but if there was, this would be it. This is a great double-track trail with hills that will get your heart pumping. I like to hike this after work most Wednesdays, and enjoy the ocean breezes, the sweeping coastal and mountain views and the sunset over Catalina Island. It’s a little slice of heaven right in the heart of south Orange County.

The Trailhead

Trail Details
Distance: 4.6 miles
Time: ~1.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation gain: 1,150 ft
Dogs: OK
When to go: Year round
Although most of the trail lies in the boundaries of San Juan Capistrano, the trail begins at a gate at the end of Camino de los Mares in San Clemente. Note that there is no parking allowed on Camino de los Mares. Instead, park on the side street about 50 yards from the end.

At the gate you have two options. For the gung-ho, take an immediate left and head up the steep hill. When you reach the first junction, turn right to meetup with the main trail on the ridge. The second option is a little kinder on the lungs. Head straight up the main trail to the ridge. It’s a long, gradual ascent.

As you travel the ridge you’ll climb over two hills, then follow the trail as it gradually climbs of the left side of the ridge. At the saddle, take a sharp right up the steep hill. The trail is marked as the Patriot Trail. You’ll follow this ridge all the way to the terminus — a flag pole. You can sign the logbook in the mailbox (or just see who else has been there). Turn around and head back, but at the first junction, veer left and follow the trail along the side of the ridge and retrace your steps to the trailhead.



Trail Map and Elevation Profile

Download file: roller-coaster-ridge.gpx

Photo Gallery

Click an image for a larger version.


  • Bring a liter of water (my recommendation).
  • There is no shade, so wear sun protection. I prefer to hike this early or late in the day, especially during warmer months.
  • The trail is shared with bikers and horses. Keep your eyes and ears open.
  • I have seen one rattlesnake on this trail, and heard others say they’ve seen them. Nothing to be fearful of, but keep your eyes open so you don’t step into one.
  • My favorite après-hike dinner is the Number 1 combo (grilled fish taco, black beans, brown rice and extra salsa) at the Wahoo’s on Camino de los Mares. Highly recommended, and healthy, too.



Have fun, be safe, and see you on the trail!

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