Hiking: Patriot Hill (AKA the RollerCoaster), San Juan Capistrano, CA

In the hills above southern Orange County, you’ll find an abundance of trails for hikers and mountain bikers alike in the San Juan Capistrano Recreational Trail System. One of the more popular trails because of its stunning views and flagpole at the end is Patriot Hill, which is also fondly called the Rollercoaster Trail because the many ups and downs.

Patriot Hill Hike at a Glance

  • Trailhead – End of Camino de los Mares in San Clemente, CA
  • Roundtrip Distance – 4.7 miles
  • Time – 2 hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Elevation Gain – 787 feet
  • Pet Friendly – Yes, on leash

There are a few different trailheads you can access this hike from, but we decided to enter at the end of Camino de los Mares in San Clemente as directed by AllTrails.com. The information on AllTrails says you cannot park on Camino de los Mares, but there is a sign clearly stating you can, except from dusk till dawn. I am guessing the information on AllTrails is old.

Parking and trail entrance at the end of Camino de los Mares.

I would still recommend using the map on AllTrails for this hike though. There are several forks and offshoots in this trail system, so you’ll want to make sure you stay on the right trail. There is cell reception in the area, so you shouldn’t have any trouble following along on your phone.

To start, you’ll pass through the entrance on the side of the gate where Camino de los Mares dead-ends. The trail quickly starts climbing and will continue uphill for the first mile of your hike. At this point, you’ll also get to a fork in the trail where you can choose to go left or right around the mountain standing between you and Patriot Hill. Alternatively, you could also go straight up and over following a very steep side trail. We went right, but you could go either way, as they will eventually meet up at the final trail and sign to Patriot Hill.

Starting to climb going up the North los Mares Trail.
After the first climb when the trail meets the ridgeline, you’ll be able to see the ocean in the distance.

The final push to the flagpole has some fun little roller hills and then you’ll be greeted with a great view of the ocean and Dana Point Harbor. Along with the flagpole, there is also a picnic table and mailbox at the top. I have no idea why there is a mailbox or what’s in it. I didn’t want to touch it because, well, COVID, but might have to see what’s in there after the pandemic and we aren’t total germaphobes. Let me know if you’ve opened it and know what’s in there!

View of the last rolling hills and the flagpole in the distance on the right side of the picture.
Where the loop meets up and you take the trail with the final rolling hills to the flagpole.
Taking in the views from the top of Patriot Hill. The mailbox is just left of the flagpole in this picture.

We hiked this trail in January, but definitely plan to come back in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. It was pretty dry this time of year, but I can imagine what a beautiful trail it is after the mustard has bloomed. All in all, we’re glad we found this fun little hike and would recommend for it’s views and good workout.

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