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ENVIRONS

BEST ORANGE COUNTY HIKES

FOR EVERY OUTDOOR ENTHUSIAST 

By Sara Hall | Contributor

WINTER 2022 ISSUE

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Photos courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, Jacque Iverson, and U.S. Forest Service

Orange County is home to a diverse environment: The Pacific Ocean and sandy beaches, forested and flower-covered hills, desert and rocky landscapes, and the Santa Ana Mountains. That means OC hikers have a variety of trails to choose from when heading into the great outdoors. There are Orange County hikes with waterfalls, redwoods, or mountains. Or take an easy hike on a nature trail and enjoy bird watching and a variety of wildflowers. 

Tableau reviewed the best hikes in Orange County with varying features and highlights, lengths and difficulty ratings, and locations across the county. Read on to learn about our top 20 choices and discover your next outdoor adventure!

Know before you go

Before you hit the trails, there are several top tips to keep in mind when hiking in Orange County.

“OC Parks offers plenty of trails for hikers of all skill levels. We suggest planning your route with a trail map, and make sure you’re prepared. Bring plenty of water and a charged phone, stay on the trail, wear sturdy shoes and take time to enjoy your outdoor adventure,” OC Parks Public Information Officer Marisa O’Neil told Tableau magazine in an email.

These precautions are particularly important to follow when you’re further out into the wilderness. Always check the official map and know your route Forest Service, Cleveland National Forest Public Affairs Officer Nathan Judy said in a phone interview with Tableau magazine.

Cells phones don’t always work out on the trail, Nathan says. He suggests letting someone know your route and expected return time.

“We want people to enjoy their national forest when they're out there, but be cognizant you’re in a wildland area,” he says.

 

Nathan also warned hikers to check fire regulations when camping in the forest. Even on chilly nights, with so little rain, the fuel moisture is low.

“One spark can start a large wildfire,” he says. 

State Parks reminds visitors to recreate responsibly. Officials urge hikers to plan ahead and play it safe. Follow Leave No Trace principles by leaving areas better than how you found them. This means staying on designated trails and picking up all trash. 

Other things to keep in mind:

• Check the weather, road conditions, and trail status before heading out.

• Bring plenty of water, food, and other essentials with you. 

• Stay on the designated trail: No shortcutting.

• Check parking requirements and park fees.

• Watch for wildlife, including rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and coyotes.

• Be on the lookout for poison oak and the lesser known, but just as irritating, poodle dog bush, both of which grow in the mountains and hills in Southern California.

 

Due to the dry environment, most hiking trails in Orange County offer little to no shade. Officials strongly recommend hiking in the early morning or late afternoon, especially during the hot summer months. If you’re going to hike during the middle of the day, plan accordingly with lots of sunscreen, a brimmed hat, and extra water.

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Editor's ChoiceBack Bay Loop Trail in Newport Beach

Location: Newport Beach

Length: 2.8 miles 

Difficulty: Easy

 

This beautiful coastal trail is a favorite among both locals and visitors for good reason. It’s one of the best easy hikes in Orange County.

The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve cover approximately 1,000 acres of open space. Surrounded by bluffs, the “critical estuary” habitat is home to distinct plant communities and thousands of birds, including some endangered species.

The park features both paved pathways and dirt trails. If you want to stay primarily on the dirt trails, there’s a 2.8-mile loop to explore. It takes hikers along the waterway with expansive views of one of the largest coastal wetland areas in Southern California.

The paved path extends 5.5 miles out and back. The full loop around Back Bay clocks in at about 10.5 miles and connects to city street sidewalks. Horses are permitted on portions of the trail.

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Best “Best of” Alternative: Joplin Trail

Location: Silverado

Length: 6.6 miles 

Difficulty: Hard

 

On a number of “best of” lists for top hikes in Orange County, Black Star Canyon is often mentioned. While it has a lot of highlights, it’s not for everyone due to how strenuous and rugged the full hike is: It starts off with an easy to moderate incline, but to see the falls it gets rocky and tricky to navigate, including some boulder scrambling and bushwacking. 

A great alternative is the Joplin Trail along Santiago Canyon in Cleveland National Forest. It’s accessed off the Santiago Truck Trail off Modjeska Grade Road.

It’s a challenging but rewarding route. The full length of the trail is nearly 10 miles (one-way) and almost 4,000 feet in elevation gain from the trailhead to the top of the ridge, where hikers can access both Modjeska Peak and Santiago Peak.

For a route comparable to Black Star Canyon, hikers can head up along the Joplin Trail, aka Santiago Truck Trail, for about 3.3 miles and 780 feet in elevation gain before heading back down. At that turnaround point, hikers will see Vulture Crags, an unusual outcropping of rocks, and an American flag alongside a U.S. Marine Corps flag. 

Adventurers can enjoy views of Santiago Canyon, the Santa Ana mountains, and the cityscape, all of which get better if trekkers opt to continue ascending.

This is also a popular trail for mountain bikers. 

An Adventure Pass or America the Beautiful pass is needed to park in Cleveland National Forest. Unfortunately, there’s no parking at the trailhead so hikers with vehicles will have to find a spot nearby to park, adding a half mile or more to the trek.

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Birding Paradise: Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Location: Huntington Beach

Length: 3 miles 

Difficulty: Easy

 

Break out the binoculars to get the most out of your visit to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. Although it’s not an expansive network of trails — about 4 miles over 1,300 acres — there are more than 200 avian species that call the estuary home. Habitats at the estuary include open water, mudflats, salt marsh, coastal dunes, seabird nesting islands, riparian, and freshwater marsh.

Nesting bird species: Ridgway’s rail (formally light-footed clapper rail), Western snowy plover, California least tern, Belding’s Savannah sparrow, white-tailed kite, black skimmer, elegant tern, Forster’s tern, Caspian tern, white-faced ibis, American avocet, and black-necked stilt.

Other noteworthy birds: Peregrine falcon, burrowing owl, California gnatcatcher, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s hawk, osprey, reddish egret, and tri-colored blackbird.

Although this an easy trail in Orange County and most hikers won’t need any pit stops, you’ll want to take a break on one of the many benches along the path to stop and watch our feathered friends. 

There’s a small, free parking lot at the trailhead, next to the interpretive center at PCH and Warner Avenue.

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Super Summit: Bedford Peak

Location: Silverado

Length: 7.3 miles 

Difficulty: Hard

 

This underrated trail is a great workout to get up to a peak that most locals forget about, but has a lot going for it. It’s a difficult, but manageable hike that rewards trekkers with a sense of accomplishment at the summit and awesome views. This is one of the most scenic hikes Orange County.

From the Maple Springs trailhead, take the Silverado Motorway trail all the way to the top. The switchbacks start immediately and they’re steep and exposed, so start early to avoid the afternoon sun. It levels out once you reach the ridge and then just over one mile to the peak.

It’s also a bit rocky and gravelly, so only sure-footed hikers should attempt this challenge.

On your trek, enjoy views of the Santa Ana Mountains, Cleveland National Forest, and even Catalina Island on a clear day. The trail also features exposed rock that showcase the formation of the canyon, 

An Adventure Pass or America the Beautiful pass is needed to park in Cleveland National Forest. 

The nearby Sitton Peak in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness (just outside the Orange County border) is also a favorite for SoCal hikers.

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Most Diverse Hike: El Moro Canyon to El Moro Ridge

Location: Newport Beach

Length: 8 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Moderate

 

Crystal Cove State Park covers sandy beaches, shady canyons, steep hills, and ridge lines with expansive views of the coastline and inland cities. While hiking Crystal Cove, there’s no bad choice, but the best route to get a little bit of everything is Moro Canyon to Bommer Ridge and return via Moro Ridge. This might even be the best hike in Orange County.

Start off in the shade of the canyon and enjoy a gentle incline for a few miles. There are a few ways to climb up to the ridge, including the Slow-N-Easy Trail or the steep and rocky Elevator Trail. Once up top, there are several trail options to descend back into the canyon, but Moro Ridge is a favorite route for its spectacular views and its direct and easy-to-follow trail. You can follow Moro Ridge all the way back to the parking lot or use I Think I Can trail to cut back to the canyon a little earlier. 

For a refreshing conclusion to your Crystal Cove hike, head through a tunnel under Pacific Coast Highway and enjoy the sand and surf. The park has some of the best beach trails in Orange County.

You can also book a site at either Upper Moro or Lower Moro campgrounds and backpack in for an overnight adventure. Upper Moro is better shielded from the wind, but Lower Moro offers better views right out your tent door.

Visitors need to pay to enter the state park. Alternatively, hikers could park for free and start from Ridge Park Road, adding about a mile and making it a lollipop loop.

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Best Views: Top of the World

Location: Laguna Beach

Length: 2.4 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Moderate

 

Top of the World offers the best 360 views in Orange County of the Pacific Ocean, nearby cities, and the surrounding hills in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. It’s a must-see for hikers of every skill level.

There are several routes to get to Top of the World Laguna Beach, including the short and easy way: Walking less than a quarter of a mile up to the top from Alta Laguna Boulevard (dead ends at the trailhead) or the nearby Alta Laguna Park. 

For a moderate Top of the World hike that will allow you to really soak in the experience, trekkers should try Canyon Acres Trail. It’s a 2.4-mile out-and-back route with 862 feet in elevation gain. It starts from the coastal side of the mountain, so there’s no shortage of ocean views during your trek.

For something a bit more challenging, hikers can get to the Top of the World via West Ridge Trail (4.5 miles). Or opt for the strenuous 10-mile (or more, depending on the route variation) Aliso Creek and Wood Canyon trails to Mathis Canyon or Car Wreck trails, leading to TOW.

 

Top of the World is also a good starting point for a number of other trails, but remember, what goes down must come back up.

There’s free street parking at several trailheads and paid lots from the park’s official staging areas.

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Top Trail for Kids: Oak Canyon Nature Center

Location: Anaheim

Length: 1.4 miles (with longer options)

Difficulty: Easy

 

If you’re looking to explore the outdoors with children, Oak Canyon Nature Center is the perfect introduction.

There’s a nature-themed interactive playground, an interpretive center for educational fun, historical mining equipment on display, and several shady trails to hike that travel over bridges, alongside a creek, and feature a few small waterfalls.

Although this earned our “Best for Kids” badge, this 58-acre natural park has something for everyone. It’s small, but there’s a lot to enjoy with four miles of hiking trails that connect three canyons, traverse oak woodland, and coastal sage scrub. Check the official map for something that works for you.

A nice 1.4-mile loop that offers a bit of everything starts out on the Main Road. Take any of the short connecting trails up to Bluebird Lane and enjoy tree coverage as you gently head uphill. The trail ends at the park’s edge, but hikers can easily exit and return on a different trail via the nearby gate. From there, climb up to the exposed Roadrunner Ridge Trail for a view of the Walnut Canyon Reservoir. Cut back down via Quail Trail to Stream Trail to get back in the shade and connect to the Main Road. You can make a figure eight and include Wren Way and Tranquility Trail to get more mileage.

If you’re looking for shaded hikes in Orange County, stay on the Main Road and Bluebird Lane trails, as they offer plenty of tree coverage.

There’s free parking in a small lot and street parking. 

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Hidden Gem: Bommer Canyon Trail

Location: Irvine

Length: 4.6 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Moderate

 

Bommer Canyon Trail may not be the most popular trek on our list, but it has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts. 

In spring, greenery and wild mustard cover the hills. In autumn, oak and sycamore groves feature leaves changing colors. Patches of cacti and rocky outcrops add some interesting highlights along the trail. It also features one of the region’s last working cattle camps (currently undergoing renovation with a detour around the camp). While the meandering trail in the canyon and meadow are easy enough for kids, the hills and connecting trails offer a challenge for hikers looking for something a little more intense.

There are a lot of “make your own adventure” trail options starting from Bommer Meadow Trail. A moderate route that will give you just a taste of what this secret spot has to offer includes the Nature Loop, Bommer Pass, and the West Fork Trail to Bommer Ridge. 

You can make the hike longer by heading up the switchbacks to Turtle Ridge and then returning to Shady Canyon Drive through a hidden community trail in a residential neighborhood.

It abuts Crystal Cove State Park and Laguna Canyon Wilderness and there are numerous trails to extend your adventure.

Irvine Ranch also offers guided programs at Bommer Canyon, allowing access to areas that are otherwise closed to the public.

 

There's a small parking lot at the Bommer Canyon trailhead, with overflow allowed across the street at the Turtle Rock Community Park or down the road Quail Hill Community Center (both have trails or sidewalks that connect to Bommer Canyon).

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Workout While Hiking: Peters Canyon Trail

Location: Orange

Length: 5.9 miles (with shorter options)

Difficulty: Moderate

 

Peters Canyon Trail is a very popular route for Orange County hikes. The hills, particularly on the East Ridge View Trail, are a great workout. They aren’t big climbs, but the continual up and down is bound to get your heart pumping. The full 5.9 loop circles Peters Canyon Reservoir and covers the entire length of the park.

The area is very exposed with almost no shade, so take precautions before hitting the trail. Many of the hills are steep and slick with loose rocks, so watch your step both when ascending and descending.

Although the majority of the trail doesn’t offer the most scenic views, the black willows and cottonwoods by the creek provide some shade and a serene atmosphere. The short Creek Trail is a must-do detour.

You can pay for parking in the lot at the north end of the park or you might be lucky enough to find a spot on the street at the south entrance.

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Most Interesting Landscape: Red Rock Canyon

Location: Lake Forest

Length: 4.1 miles (with longer options)

Difficulty: Moderate

 

Red Rock Canyon in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is one of the most interesting landscapes in the region. It's also one of the most popular Orange County hikes, so be ready for a crowded trail.

It starts under the shade of sycamores and other trees and meanders alongside a seasonal creek. It starts opening up with more brush and less tree coverage before ending at one of the county’s most impressive geological wonders: Red Rock Canyon. The colorful sandstone is akin to what travelers might see in Arizona or Utah, so it’s a special treat to find it in Orange County.

Borrego Canyon Trail connects to Red Rock Trail, which dead ends at the colorful canyon. Borrego Canyon links up with a number of other trails in Whiting Ranch Wilderness, including Dreaded Hill. If you extend your hike you’ll have to back-track at some point to return to the canyon and the parking lot.

While the scenic rock formations are the highlight of the approximately 2,500-acre park, there’s plenty more nature to enjoy, including riparian and oak woodland canyons, rolling grassland hills and steep slopes of coastal sage scrub and chaparral.

There is a small paid parking lot at the trailhead. 

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Tallest Trees: Redwood Grove Trail

Location: Brea

Length: 1.5 miles 

Difficulty: Easy

 

There are only a handful of places to see the official state tree — the majestic coastal redwood — in Southern California, but luckily for local residents a grove of the tall trees is located right here in Orange County. There’s something special about walking under the canopy of 100-foot redwoods and this short and sweet hike hits the spot. 

The 124-acre Carbon Canyon Regional Park is mostly developed with large grassy fields, play structures, and picnic tables, but about three acres are used as open space with a few trails. 

An easy 1.5-mile loop leads hikers to the grove and along the base of the dam. To extend your adventure, use the connecting trail to hike to the top and across the dam. 

As the story goes, saplings were being given away by a local bank to new account holders in the early 1970s. At the end of the promotional event, the leftover plants were donated to the county and planted in 1975. 

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Sandiest Path: San Clemente Beach Trail

Location: San Clemente

Length: 4.5 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Easy

 

If you want to get your feet sandy and feel that ocean breeze on your face, the San Clemente Beach Trail is the answer. The relatively flat 4.5-mile out-and-back path runs alongside the train tracks with very little elevation gain. Hikers will enjoy coastal bluffs on one side and crashing waves on the other. While there are a lot of beach hikes in Orange County, this is our top choice.

Since it’s more of a leisurely stroll than a hike, you can connect to the Sea Summit Trail for a more challenging trek. It will take to the hills above the city for wider views of the ocean.

It’s a popular trail, so be prepared to share the path with others. There are ADA approved sections and much of the walkway is stroller-friendly. There are several access points to jump on the trail wherever you want.

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Best Walking Path: Oso Creek Trail

Location: Mission Viejo

Length: 3.2 miles (with shorter options)

Difficulty: Easy

 

More than just a sidewalk, this path features native riparian plants, artwork, and areas to rest and relax. It’s mostly paved, so it’s a great option for strollers or wheelchairs, although a section on the west side of the creek is packed dirt and mulch.

The creek naturally flows from north of the Santa Ana Mountains and eventually joins the Trabuco Creek, ultimately leading to the Pacific Ocean. 

More than 60 varieties of plants were placed to create the “walking garden” along the trail. The creek's edge has been replanted with indigenous plants that occur along a riparian streambed, including coyote brush, mulefat, Mexican elderberry, toyon, and willows. 

The pathway also includes a Peace Obelisk to honor victims of 9/11, mosaic walls in the Character Garden, painted butterfly sculptures, a plant maze, a “Wave Wall,” and community murals.

You can park and access the trail from various city streets or the community center. 

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Stunning Sunsets: Bommer Ridge Trail

Location: Newport Beach

Length: 7.4 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Moderate

 

There’s nothing quite as stunning as seeing the sun slowly set behind the Pacific Ocean, and in Orange County, the best spot to see that is along Bommer Ridge in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. 

Explore the San Joaquin Hills at sunset by starting at the Pacific Ridge Trailhead by Coastal Peak Park in Newport Beach. Trekkers follow Bommer Ridge Trail, skirting the edge of Crystal Cove State Park and crossing the city border into Laguna Beach. You can hike the full 3.5 miles until it ends at a junction or turn around at any point.  

You’ll see sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean for almost the entire hike, aside from the dips where you’re hidden behind brush. There’s essentially no bad spot to see the sunset anywhere along the ridge.

There are some hills along the way, but nothing too strenuous for most hikers. The entire Bommer Ridge Trail is about 734 feet in elevation gain. 

 

For a more strenuous hike, start on the Laguna Beach side. A tough, but popular route starts in Willow Canyon and then climbs up to Bommer Ridge. It’s a steep ascent, so hikers should be prepared for a challenge. Check the official mapfor a route that best works for you.

It’s also a popular trail network for mountain bikers. 

Parking is free, but tight at the park and on the street by the trailhead. 

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Top Trail Network: Chino Hills State Park

Location: Brea

Length: 12.6 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Moderate

 

With more than 90 miles of trails, there are so many route options at Chino Hills State Park that a hiker can return multiple times before taking the same path twice. Some of the top hikes in Orange County can be found in or linked to this park. It’s so large, it actually crosses county lines into San Bernardino County. 

The open-space area in the hills around the Santa Ana Canyon has more than 14,000 acres of rolling, grassy hills and valleys to explore. In spring, the hills glow golden with wild mustard and wildflowers, including California poppies, that can be found throughout the park. 

It’s also a critical link in the Puente-Chino Hills biological corridor, an unbroken zone of habitat stretching nearly 31 miles. It allows wildlife to move through the wilderness nestled in between urban cities. 

A great hike at this expansive park is Telegraph Canyon to North Ridge loop. The entire route is 12.6 miles with 1,627 feet in elevation gain. Telegraph Canyon is a wide dirt road with a gentle incline. At the junction, also known as Four Corners, there are picnic tables and porta-potties, making it a great spot to rest before the climb up to North Ridge. Alternatively, you can hike back via South Ridge, but it’s more exposed and not nearly as green in the spring. Along North Ridge, be sure to take a short detour to Gilman Peak.

You can shorten the hike a few miles by heading up to the ridge via Sycamore Trail (there are several connecting trails, but some are overgrown and/or very slippery and steep and aren’t recommended).

There’s a large, paid parking lot on Carbon Canyon Road. There's also free street parking by the Rimcrest Trailhead in a residential neighborhood in Yorba Linda (it gets full very early) and from there you can access Telegraph Canyon via Easy Street Trail

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Loveliest Lake Trail: Barbara's Lake Loop

Location: Laguna Beach

Length: 2.8 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Easy

 

There are many waterfront hiking options in OC, but Barbara’s Lake tops the list with a nice walk with some tree shade, interesting flora and fauna, lake views, and small hills to get your muscles moving. 

Start your hike at the Dilley Staging Area and walk along the relatively flat Lake Trail. When the path comes to a junction, keep heading straight along Edison Trail, this will take you to Barbara’s Lake and then it curves back around to the top of the hill. There’s another junction and you have several options to return to the parking lot.

Alternatively, hikers can start at the Little Sycamore Canyon Staging Area

Both start locations have large paid parking lots. 

If you’re looking for something more strenuous, Barbara’s Lake Trail connects to several other Laguna Coast Wilderness trails leading to other hiking areas, including Bommer Canyon and Crystal Cove State Park.

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Most Variety of Multi-Use Trails: Santiago Oaks Regional Park

Location: Orange

Length: 4.1 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Hard

 

Hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, equestrians, nature lovers, and kids can all find what they’re looking for at Santiago Oaks Regional Park.

The 1,269-acre park includes a nature center, equestrian trails, challenging hills, a historic dam and quiet creek, and technical tracks for mountain bikes.

There are many route options, so be sure to check out the official park map to find something that best fits your skills and what you’re wanting to achieve. Horses and bikes are allowed on most of the trails, but check the trail guide on the map to confirm.

For a challenging hike that hits a lot of highlights, start off on the Wilderness Trail and then take either Oak Trail or Peralta Hills Trail to connect to Anaheim Hills Trail. That will lead you up to Robber’s Roost (a rock outcropping where you can feel like king/queen of the world), an American Flag positioned on an overlook point, and then connect to Barham Ridge Trail. Be sure to check out the Barham Ridge lookout point for some sweeping views of the hills and cities stretched out across the landscape. From there, carefully make your way down the Mountain Goat Enhancement Trail (the original Mountain Goat Trail is still accessible, but it’s very steep and technical and is only recommended for experienced hikers). You’ll eventually hit Santiago Creek Trail, which will lead you back to the parking lot. A nice, shady detour is the Historic Dam Trail, which also leads back to the parking area. 

This route starts and ends in the shade, but the majority of the hike is exposed.

There are also many steep, rocky, and slippery hills, so even sure-footed trekkers should step carefully. 

Another fun route starts in Irvine Park, follows Roadrunner Loop and then up the moderately challenging Chutes Trail. It connects to Barham Ridge and you can carefully take the Mountain Goat Enhancement Trail back down. Cross in front of the big dam on Santiago Creek Trail and then head up a big paved incline before connecting to the Great Egret Trail and the sandy Willow Trail to return to Irvine Park. This loop is about 4.5 miles.

Visitors need to pay to enter the park at the main gate. There’s a large parking area with restrooms, picnic tables, and shade. 

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Escape the City: Buck Gully Trail

Location: Newport Beach

Length: 4.5 miles (with shorter or longer options)

Difficulty: Easy

 

Nestled in between the large homes on the hills of Newport Coast and the busy village of Corona del Mar, Buck Gully Reserve is a respite from its urban surroundings.

The trail follows a stream up the canyon to Newport Coast. It’s a gentle incline to the edge of the 254-acre reserve. Hikers can add an extra 300 feet in elevation gain by climbing up Bobcat Trail to Harbor Watch Park.

 

This peaceful walk along the watershed has improved in recent years. Buck Gully Reserve was recently renovated to improve traveler impact on the sensitive habitat, including placing four bridges by helicopter.

Free parking is available on the streets around Poppy Avenue or the nearby Oasis Senior Center auxiliary lot. For the upper trailhead, parking is free at Canyon Watch Park or Newport Coast Community Center. 

Bicycling is one-way directional only from the Poppy Avenue entrance.

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Quick Outing: Quail Hill Loop

Location: Irvine

Length: 1.8 miles 

Difficulty: Easy

 

For a quick escape into nature, outdoor enthusiasts should check out Quail Hill in Irvine. It’s also a good start for trail runners or beginner mountain bikers who want to test their feet or wheels out with a few loops.

There’s a small hill on this family-friendly hike, just off the main trail. On a clear day, you can see the San Gabriel Mountains.

If you want to learn while hiking, the trail also features a self-guided audio tour, which provides insights about the natural resources in the area.

The short loop doesn’t have any shade, so come prepared.

Parking is free, but it’s a popular starting point for longer hikes, so arrive early to get a spot.  

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Wonderful Waterfall Hike: Chiquito Falls

Location: Lake Elsinore

Length: 9.1 miles 

Difficulty: Hard

 

This waterfall hike in Orange County actually covers two falls, but the highlight is Chiquito Falls. It’s a total of about 9 miles out-and-back with about 1,580 feet in elevation gain, so be ready for a challenge. Chiquito Trail continues onward and upward past the falls, connecting to San Juan Trail and providing access to Sugarloaf Mountain and other trails in Cleveland National Forest.

Hike through a shady woodland area for the first section of this hike, which is popular and typically pretty busy, up to the smaller San Juan Falls. Leave the crowds behind and continue following the creek. There’s some boulder hopping and a steep climb, but it’s worth the work. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Santa Ana Mountains and Orange County.

 

The trail can be rocky and steep in some sections, so hit the trail with the appropriate footwear and gear. It’s seasonal, so the best time to visit is after a spring rain. It usually dries to a trickle by summer. 

An Adventure Pass or America the Beautiful pass is needed to park in Cleveland National Forest.

Another popular Orange County waterfall hike, also in Cleveland National Forest, is the Holy Jim Trail. Although it’s currently closed while volunteers continue work to restore it following recent fires in the area.

 

See all our top Orange County trails on a map with individual route details and reviews here.

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