I’m a big fan of going for drives, just for the sake of the drive. It helps me think, it helps me relax, and it lets me explore nature while enjoying one of my favorite hobbies, cars! I had a friend getting married outside of Murrieta, which is east of Orange County, over the Santiago mountain range. I wanted to find a more interesting route than just Ortega (Highway 74) and the 15. Zooming in on the map, I found South Main Divide. It looked mostly paved, and I had a feeling my 2011 Subaru Outback could handle any mild dirt trails. So with my trusty co-pilot wife Shelby and our dog Jordi, we set off on a free Saturday to see what we could see. I’ll be talking through the map below for the remainder of this post.
We started at the top of Ortega, just before it drops into Lake Elsinore, in the village of El Cariso. We hung a right at S Main Divide (purple arrow on the map), which is a two-lane road tracing the ridgeline, giving stunning views of Lake Elsinore. The road continues in that format for almost 5 miles, where we encountered a collection of awesome ranch homes. The road then converts to single lane paved (topmost green arrow). This section is easily driveable in just about any car, but be cautious of potholes. There are drainage culverts shaped into the road, so lowered cars would have a little trouble. We encountered maybe two cars on this section, and due to the narrowness, requires one car to give way to the other. That road continued on for almost 4 miles and is filled with expansive views of the Santiago range. There isn’t much civilization out here, less than 10 miles off the beaten path! Note the road changes names to Wildomar Truck Trail (with no discernable turn to stay on S Main Divide) at about 2.5 miles, then shortly thereafter changes names again to Los Alamos Truck Trail.
At that point, roughly 3.7 miles from the single-lane conversion, there is a dirt road with an open gate on the left-hand side, which is the return of S Main Divide (topmost red arrow on the map). We headed down this trail next. It was bumpy with lots of hills to climb up and down, but passable in the Outback. We scraped the front bumper once entering a dip too fast. Other than that, no issues! The trail turns back to pavement (lower red arrow on the map) and we were officially in Murrieta.
We took a break to drive into Murrieta to grab a bite to eat. Perusing the map at lunch, we figured we would try Tenaja Truck Trail, which appeared to connect back to S Main Divide. We made our way to the Tenaja Trailhead, which is accessible from Tenaja Road, using Cleveland Forest Road (lower green arrow on map). This road was also single-lane paved, very similar to the middle section of S Main Divide from our outbound drive.
I can’t say enough about Tenaja Truck Trail. It is very scenic, winding through the valleys, and features a beautiful riverbed with running water, that we took a break at. We encountered maybe 3 cars the entire time and discovered numerous marked trailheads and viewpoints. The road connects to the paved section of S Main Divide and provides about an hour’s worth of civilization-free driving.
We used my Garmin VIRB camera to capture the routes. I recommend viewing at double speed and providing your own music!