Afoot and Afield Orange County  by Jerry Schad and David Money Harris

Afoot & Afield: Orange County Guide Book

by Jerry Schad and David Money Harris (Wilderness Press)
Afoot and Afield Orange County  by Jerry Schad and David Money Harris
From the look-alike cities in the north to the newer, planned communities of the south, Orange County seems little distinguished from its colossal neighbor and economic parent, Los Angeles. But a deeper identity, rooted in geography, transcends the urban sprawl. Orange Countians are reminded of their uniqueness not so much by the human architecture of city and suburb, but rather by the blue Pacific, the green and tawny coastal hills, and the purple wall of the Santa Ana Mountains.

© 2015 Jerry Schad and David Money Harris/Wilderness Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Afoot & Afield: Orange County" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 124.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 124.

Agua Chinon Canyon is the short way into The Sinks. An old ranch road ascends the wash, gently at first, and more steeply as it approaches the sinks. The trail is lined with diverse sage scrub and occasional live oak and sycamore, and the wash it parallels supports riparian vegetation and more wildlife. OC Parks has been removing the invasive plants and restoring the native vegetation. Agua Chinon is only open to the public during scheduled docent-led programs. Activities include hikes to The Sinks or beyond to Box Springs (about 8 miles), short full moon hikes and nature walks, bike rides, and restoration projects. Note that Agua Chinon is inaccessible on Limestone Canyon Open Access days.
Trabuco Canyon, CA - Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 5
Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park consists of over 4200 acres of shallow canyons, sandstone rock formations, narrow strips of oak and riparian woodland, and hillsides draped with aromatic sage-scrub vegetation. Subdivisions and subdivisions-in-the-making press in along the park’s long, narrow boundary, which is perforated by many neighborhood access points.
Aliso Viejo, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 10
The Aliso Creek Trail, designated a National Recreation Trail in 2012, is another long-distance urban trail through Orange County. It follows Aliso (Spanish for “alder”) Creek from its seasonal headwaters at the foot of the Santa Ana Mountains down to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, where the trail ends at a private property boundary just before reaching the Pacific Ocean.
Aliso Viejo, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 13
This neighborhood trail on the ridge overlooking Aliso Canyon doubles as a firebreak that separates the huge hilltop mansions from the fire-prone sage scrub in the canyon. The mellow hike is popular with locals because of its sweeping views. Cyclists connect with city streets for a hilly loop.
Laguna Niguel, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.4
The somewhat long but easy-going trek down the Arroyo Trabuco is most adventurous after winter rainy periods, when turbid water dances over a wide, gravelly bed, and there’s no way to avoid a good foot-soaking at each of four fords you encounter along the trail. Be aware, however, that for most county-park trails such as this, there’s usually a “drying-out” period (usually 3 days) during which all visitation is prohibited. You will pass many unmarked and unmapped paths on both sides; stay on the wide main trail, which is marked every mile.
Trabuco Canyon, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 6
Bane Canyon cuts through the northeast portion of the park. The ridges on either side of the canyon offer terrific views, especially in the spring when the park is green and wildflowers are blooming. This loop hike, the long way to McLean Overlook, features walks on both ridges. The panoramic views of the largely undeveloped hills are a striking contrast to the heavily built lands outside the park. This trail is popular with cyclists and horseback riders.
Chino Hills, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 7
United States Geological Survey maps show an unnamed trail leading part-way up the ridge between Bell and Trabuco Canyons, but the Cleveland National Forest does not list this trail among their system trails. Mountain bikers call this route Bell Ridge, have extended the trail all the way to Los Pinos Peak, and have erected a flagpole on Bell Peak, the first peaklet along the ridge. This is a hike for the adventurous.
Trabuco Canyon, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
The Bell View Regional Trail, for hikers, equestrians, and cyclists, starts as a “community trail” threading through the suburban-edge communities of Rancho Santa Margarita and Coto de Caza. It then assumes a wilder character as it undulates along a ridge overlooking open land to the east as far as the eye can see. The route ends inside Caspers Wilderness Park, not far from Ortega Highway.
Trabuco Canyon, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 8
Both the beginning part on Big Bend Trail and the ending part on Laguna Ridge Trail will test the mettle of any hiker, due to a combination of steepness and roughness. Although mountain bikes are technically allowed on the route, much of that effort would go into slinging the bike over one’s shoulder and slipsliding down the steepest grades. You might as well walk!
Laguna Beach, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.9
Although most of the Irvine Open Space Preserve is accessible only on guided trips or special open-access days, one perimeter trail network through the preserve and the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is open to the public year-round. This trip makes a grand loop around the preserve on this path through diverse country, ranging from a neighborhood path in Irvine to an intimate trail through Bommer Canyon to the Bommer Ridge fire road with expansive views over coastal sage scrub to the sea.
Irvine, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 14
The Irvine Ranch Open Space portion of Black Star Canyon is open only for scheduled events. At the time of this writing, the canyon has open-access days (registration not required) every other month that include nature activities for kids. Black Star also has regular docent-led hikes and bike rides. Don’t mix up this area with the popular Black Star Canyon Falls hike in Cleveland National Forest, which is open all the time and does not require registration.
Silverado, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 4
Good timing is the key to catching the waterfall in Black Star Canyon at its best. Since only about 3 square miles of drainage area lie above it, persistent rains are needed to get more than a dribble of water over the fall. Whether the water is flowing or not, though, the canyon bottom itself is delightful to explore any time the weather is mild.
Silverado, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 7
From Ortega Highway on the north to Tenaja Road on the south, this route traverses the heart of the San Mateo Wilderness by way of old roads and primitive trails. Carry a full backpack and plan to spend a night out in Oak Flats or San Mateo Canyon, or go light and make this simply a long day’s outing. Without a doubt, March and April are the most rewarding times: knee-high grasses ripple across the potreros, chaparral blooms release their potent fragrances, and water trickles down the shady ravines. Depending on its state of maintenance, the Bluewater Trail may be quite overgrown by encroaching vegetation, so it would be wise to contact the Forest Service before attempting this route.
Lake Elsinore, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 13
This hike makes a loop around Bolsa Chica Slough. Binoculars, spotting scopes, and/or cameras are de rigueur, of course.
Huntington Beach, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.6
This hike and most of Bommer Canyon are open only during scheduled programs. At the time of this writing, Bommer Canyon open-access days are generally scheduled from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on a Saturday every month. See for a list of events. The loop through the heart of Bommer Canyon starts at the old Irvine Ranch Cattle Camp.
Orange, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.2
Like most trails in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, the Borrego Trail is open to mountain biking and horseback riding, as well as hiking. Mountain bikers, however, are not allowed to ride all the way to Red Rock. At the beginning, you immediately plunge into densely shaded Borrego Canyon, alongside a stream that happily trickles through the winter and spring. Often in the late fall and winter, frigid air sinks into these shady recesses overnight, and by early morning, frost mantels everything below eye-level.
Foothill Ranch, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 4.4
The gated and signed Buck Gully Trail begins on the east side of Poppy Avenue just north of 5th Avenue. Descend the paved road to a sign marking the start of the dirt trail along the canyon. In 1.2 miles, pass the Bobcat Trail on the left, by which you will return. In another 0.8 mile, stay left at a fork where another dirt road climbs to Newport Coast Drive. The Buck Gully Trail soon veers north to meet San Joaquin Hills Road in 0.5 mile at a signed trailhead with no street parking.
Newport Beach, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5
Carbon Canyon Regional Park, one of the many smaller units of Orange County’s far-flung regional park system, has enough room for one significant hiking trail. An unlikely grove of coast redwood trees, nursed from seedlings and planted in 1975, lies at the end of this self-guiding nature trail. Indigenous to the California coast only as far south as Monterey County, their survival in this rather dry corner of Orange County is quite remarkable.
Brea, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.6
If you want to spot wildlife, take the hike to Chiquito Basin early in the day. One morning, in the soft wet ground along the way, Jerry discovered fresh tracks of a deer and a mountain lion, both apparently moving along at a running gait. With an earlier start, he might have witnessed a terrific chase. It might bear repeating that in this remote corner of Orange County, as well as in the parklands of the lower foothills, mountain lions are occasionally spotted, and they have very occasionally attacked hikers and mountain bikers. To stay as safe as possible, travel in groups and don’t let kids stray.
Lake Elsinore, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 3
Like the San Juan Trail, the Chiquito Trail is best explored from end to end, preferably in the downhill direction. Along the way, you’ll enjoy cool passages through canyon bottoms but also endure (if the weather is warm) a seemingly endless traverse across a sun-blasted slope. This lightly maintained trail is lined for miles with poison oak, so wear pants and long sleeves.
Lake Elsinore, CA - Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 9