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Cleveland National Forest
Cleveland National Forest from Laguna Mountain
Cleveland National Forest is located in the United States
Cleveland National Forest
Cleveland National Forest
Location in the United States
Location San Diego / Riverside / Orange counties, California, United States
Nearest city Corona, California
Area 720 sq mi (1,900 km2)
Named for Grover Cleveland
Governing body U.S. Forest Service
Website Cleveland National Forest

Cleveland National Forest encompasses 460,000 acres (720 sq mi (1,900 km2)), mostly of chaparral, with a few riparian areas. A warm dry mediterranean climate prevails over the forest. It is the southernmost U.S. National Forest of California. It is administered by the U.S. Forest Service, a government agency within the United States Department of Agriculture. It is divided into the Descanso, Palomar and Trabuco Ranger Districts and is located in the counties of San Diego, Riverside, and Orange.

Cleveland National Forest was created on July 1, 1908 with the consolidation of Trabuco Canyon National Reserve and San Jacinto National Reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt and named after former president Grover Cleveland. It is headquartered in San Diego. The Cleveland National Forest was the site of both of the largest wildfires in California history, the 2003 Cedar Fire, and the Santiago Canyon Fire of 1889. Both fires widely consumed many sections of the area, and endangered many animal species as well.


Use restrictions

A National Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking in designated areas of the Cleveland National Forest as well as other National Forests in Southern California, and may be obtained from local merchants, visitor centers, or online.

Available on the Cleveland National Forest Official Site under Current Conditions are road, campground, picnic area, and trail closures.

"Law Enforcement Activities" are a common reason given for closures in the southern portion of the forest. These closures are implemented to limit back road access in hopes of circumnavigating US Border Patrol checkpoints. Bear Valley Road coming up from Buckman Springs, Kitchen Creek Road and Thing Valley Road are among routes that are routinely restricted.

Elevated fire restrictions were announced in August 2020.[1]


Popular activities include picnic areas, hiking through the mountains on foot, exploring on horseback, trail mountain biking, camping overnight or driving on the Sunrise Scenic Highway. The Forest also includes Corral Canyon and Wildomar Off-Highway Vehicle Areas.

Besides climbers and wildlife advocates, the Forest also accommodates the needs of telecommunications companies, hunters, campers, utilities, off-road-vehicle enthusiasts, hikers, horse riders, neighbors and others.


  • Campgrounds – The Cleveland National Forest has campgrounds available at the Descanso, Palomar, and Trabuco Ranger District. Sites normally serve 6-8 persons and 2 vehicles.
    • Group camping – Group campgrounds are available.
    • Remote camping – Visitor's permits are required.

Hiking trails

  • Sunset Trail - Sunset Trail is a 4.6 mile loop trail accessible from Meadows Trailhead off Sunrise Highway, mile marker 19.1. The trail, which offers several connection options, winds through pine forest leading one to open meadows, ponds and small lakes, and a popular lookout to the Pacific Ocean. The surrounding habitat supports numerous flora and fauna including native black oaks, Engelmann oaks, giant Jeffrey pines, Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus), hawks and turkey vultures. Dogs are not allowed off leash.


Fire lookout towers

There are currently two operational fire lookout towers in the Cleveland National Forest.

  • High Point Lookout, Cleveland National Forest, Palomar Mountain
  • Los Pinos Lookout, Cleveland National Forest, near Lake Morena
  • Boucher Hill Lookout: While this fire lookout tower is also on Palomar Mountain, it actually sits inside the Palomar Mountain State Park and not the Cleveland National Forest. It is an operational tower and works in conjunction with the USFS but is owned by the State of California and is an historic building.

Wilderness areas

There are 4 official wilderness areas in Cleveland National Forest that are part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. One of them extends into land that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

  • Agua Tibia Wilderness (partly BLM)
  • Hauser Wilderness
  • Pine Creek Wilderness
  • San Mateo Canyon Wilderness

Flora and fauna

Cleveland National Forest is home to many wildlife species such as mountain lion, bobcat, mule deer, coyote, gray fox, ringtail cat, long-tailed weasel, opossum, black-tailed jackrabbits, desert cottontails, California ground squirrel, and many other small species. A wildlife corridor is being created between the Cleveland National Forest and Orange County’s wild coastal terrains to ensure that animals can retreat fire safely if needed.

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