Biking, hiking, or horseback riding, it's downhill from pines to sunny chaparral on the Noble Canyon Trail

The Noble Canyon National Recreation Trail is an extension and reworking of an older trail built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Since its completion in 1982, the trail has proven popular among hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers.

With transportation arrangements set up in advance, you can travel one-way along this trail in the relatively easy downhill direction. Potable water is not available at either trailhead, so plan for your water needs in advance.

You start from the Penny Pines Trailhead in the Laguna Mountains, at mile 27.3 along Sunrise Highway, where parking space is plentiful along the highway shoulder. Your journey ends, about two to five hours later depending on your mode of transportation, at the Noble Canyon Trailhead on Pine Creek Road, about two miles north of the town of Pine Valley. Note that both trailheads require a National Forest Adventure Pass if you intend to leave cars at the start or finish.

From the Penny Pines Trailhead, head west on the Noble Canyon Trail. After passing some Jeffrey pines, you rise a bit along the north slope of a steep hill. From there, the view extends north to the distant summits of San Jacinto Peak and San Gorgonio Mountain. Next, you descend to cross roads three times, then climb and circle around the chaparral-clad north end of a north-south trending ridge. This seemingly out-of-the-way excursion avoids private lands lying within the national forest, and it opens up interesting vistas to the north and west.

At 2.4 miles, keep going on the Noble Canyon Trail, as the Indian Creek trail branches right. By about 3.0 miles, you're crossing Pine Creek Road and heading south into the uppermost reaches of Noble Canyon.

Past some live oaks, black oaks, and Jeffrey pines, you emerge into a steep, sunlit section of the canyon, where hardy, drought-tolerant plants cling to the exposed metamorphic rock. Back in the shade of oaks again, you'll cross a major tributary creek from the east. This drains the Laguna Lakes and Laguna Meadow. Pause for a while in this shady glen, where the water flows over somber, grayish granitic rock and gathers in languid pools bedecked by sword and bracken ferns.

You continue within a riparian area for some distance down the canyon. Mixed in with the oaks, you'll discover a number of California bay trees, the leaves of which are known for their peculiar sweet-pungent scent. The creek lies mostly hidden by willows and sycamores, and dense thickets of poison oak, wild rose, wild strawberries, and other types of water-loving vegetation.

Crossing over to the west bank of the creek, you break out of the trees and emerge in a sunny, warm area with sage scrub and chaparral vegetation. The trail contours to a point about 100 feet above the creek, and maintains this position as it bends around several small tributaries. Yucca, prickly-pear cactus, and even hedgehog cactus -- normally a denizen of the desert -- make appearances here.

At about seven miles, the trail switches back, crosses the Noble Canyon Creek for the last time, and veers up a tributary canyon to the south. The trail climbs to reach a saddle after about two miles from Noble Canyon, then darts right (west) over another saddle. You descend sharply on the final, rocky section of the trail, and arrive at the Noble Canyon Trailhead on Pine Creek Road.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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