The steep and rugged Santa Ana Mountains represent one of the best and largest stretches of open space in Southern California. At almost 400 square miles (~250,000 acres), these lands provide recreational access to at least 20 million residents—a backyard playground for the region’s burgeoning populations. The Santa Ana Mountains straddle the Orange and Riverside County lines, and its two highest peaks—Santiago and Modjeska—form the familiar ‘Saddleback Peak.’
Many of the foothills leading up to the Santa Ana Mountains, on the west side, are protected from future development either as part of the Cleveland National Forest or through the Natural Community Conservation Plan and Habitat Conservation Plan. Though inholdings still exist in the Forest, for the most part these lands are largely intact and allow for the easy migration and movement of species around the foothills.
The Cleveland National Forest, created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, is home to incredible diversity—diversity of wildlife, plants, and terrain. From the wide-ranging cougars to the ring-tailed cat and from purple-needle grass to big cone spruce trees, the Trabuco District provides a refuge for the many species and plants that rely on this large ecosystem for survival—those looking to migrate, forage, and search for suitable mates.
The Santa Ana Mountains include numerous important habitat types and landscapes including chaparral, coastal sage scrub, cactus scrub, rock outcroppings, riparian (streamside habitat), woodlands, grasslands, and waterfalls. Beautiful picturesque viewpoints abound in the Forest, but few realize the importance of the Santa Ana Mountains to the greater ecosystems of Orange County. The Laguna Coast, for example, is dependent on the coast-to-Cleveland connection (Irvine-Laguna Wildlife Corridor) to maintain its own biodiversity.