Deciduous black oaks and Fremont cottonwoods line the Sawmill Road Loop Trail near Lake Arrowhead, making the 2.9-mile (round-trip) hike one of the best in SoCal for a seasonal kaleidoscope of changing leaves.
Starting from the trailhead, you’re almost immediately immersed in shade cast by the yellow and green leaves of the black oaks. Continue farther along to see the green valleys of the San Bernardinos peppered with golden yellows. The first 1.8-mile segment of the trek follows Rouse Ranch Road—mostly downhill, with some slight incline, on the popular off-roading route. When you hook left at the sign marked “to 2N29Y,” you’ll link up with Sawmill Road.
At about 1.9 miles you’ll rapidly ascend 150 feet. The greater height brings greater views, as well as less shade. Just past 2 miles, turn left off Sawmill Road onto a narrow trail where the off-roaders can’t go—this section is just for hikers. Here you’ll see many of the Fremont cottonwoods and some of the starkest yellow leaves, in the trees and carpeting the ground. You’ll also get a brief view of Lake Arrowhead through the foliage.
When you reach pavement, you’ll be passing through North Shore Campground. Follow the pavement as far left as it will go and you’ll find the last bit of trail heading downhill to where you parked. This is also your last chance to soak in those autumn colors.
From CA-18 (Rim of the World Hwy.) in Lake Arrowhead, turn north onto CA-173 for 2.6 miles and then turn right on Torrey Rd. Continue straight onto Rouse Ranch Rd. and drive past the pavement onto the dirt road for a short distance. A large dirt parking area is on the right side of the road. Parking coordinates: 34.266179, -117.161860. Dog-friendly!