Quick escapes: Ortega Falls


John Fredricks

The real fun in this “quick escape” I experienced last weekend was actually finding it, being that the only hint I received was that the destination, Ortega Falls, was located “somewhere” off Highway 74. The highway itself is a narrow but scenic 30-mile pass leading from San Juan Capistrano to Lake Elsinore, but this information came from a friend and I therefore needed to set out and find this place.

Days after I had heard about the falls, I randomly decided to head up the “74” and see what I could dish out. Once you exit the 5 freeway and head towards Elsinore, it only takes minutes for the suburban settings to turn into grassy patches and trees. After about 25 minutes of driving on the highway, I pulled off into a campground to do a little searching, only to hop back into the car and continue the endeavor.   Half an hour later, against my male instincts, I decided to ask for directions at a nice sweet shop known locally as the “Ortega Candy Store,” only to realize that I was within three miles away from my destination.

Well, even the two charming ladies that helped me were wrong, because the dirt pull-off area for the falls was only about a mile away.  I realized this after more trial and error…
Once you get parked and tie up your hiking shoes, you can proceed on foot on a small path to the far right of the lot. Once you continue to follow it towards the large rocks, you can enjoy the nice shade the canyon and the trees have to offer. The actual falls have water flowing down it only half the year, during the wetter seasons, but when it is dry, you can enjoy scaling the vertical, roughly 60-foot rock wall with your rock-climbing gear – if it’s your thing. If it is not, turn that frown upside down, because you can follow this rocky path quite a ways and in both directions.

Luckily, I ran into Saddleback College students Ryan Marshall, 20, astronomy, and Christina Szlanta, 18, undecided, because they were kind enough to let me borrow their climbing gear and give the wall a try.

Ortega is a good escape not only for our adventuresome students, but also for those just looking for a mellow place to hang with friends – if you get over hanging on the same old couches you are wasting away on. Pick up a Subway and have some lunch by a waterfall, or pack a bag and go for a nice hike. Just make sure you check this place out. Enjoy!

Physical: 2**out of 5

Cost: 1*out of 5 (you need to get a $4 Adventure Pass; do not make the same mistake that I did and get yourself a ticket).

Bring: well-treaded shoes (the rocks make it easy to slip), rock-climbing gear, healthy snacks, a nice book, a hot date, an Adventure Pass and “Cliffhanger” on DVD.
Directions: From Saddleback Campus, take the 5 freeway south. Exit Ortega Hwy 74 and proceed towards Lake Elsinore. After about 30 minutes, look for a candy store on the right-hand side of the road (the pull- off is about a mile from this dirt lot on your left), just past the 2,000 ft. elevation marker.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email