Orange County, California is home to some great trails. From ocean vistas at sunset, waterfalls in the wilderness and wind-swept mountain peaks with 360-degree views, there are many diverse habitats to experience. There are hikes for all skill levels that lead adventurers through creek beds, tree-lined paths and wetlands full of wildlife. OC Habitats would like to introduce six amazing Orange County hiking spots just waiting to be explored.
Top of the World: The view is second to none on this short but steep 2.4-mile hike in Laguna Beach. You’ll climb through the coastal sage scrub of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park until you reach the panoramic vista with a terrific view of Saddleback Mountain. From there, you’ll have views of Catalina Island, Mt Baldy and even Angeles National Forest on a clear day. There’s even a bench where you can sit and soak in the breathtaking scene. Parking for the hike is at the end of Canyon Acres Drive in a residential section of Laguna Beach. The parking is limited, but the trail is rarely busy so finding a spot is not difficult.
Black Star Canyon: Black Star Canyon Trail in Silverado is a local favorite for hikers seeking more of a challenge. The 7.1-mile trail follows Black Star Creek to Black Star Canyon Falls, and there’s a haunted history to ponder as you trek through this breathtaking section of Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park. The hike up this stretch can get difficult as you climb up boulders upstream. The big payoff is the waterfall that emerges from an abandoned mine shaft. Hiking on the Black Star Canyon Trail can be a challenge, especially when the terrain is wet. There are really two parts of the trail on the hike up Black Star Canyon: the first half is a fairly easy trek on dirt roads, while the second half follows the Black Star Creek bed and is much more difficult. Toward the end of the hike, you will have to pull yourself up more rocks and boulders, so dress accordingly. The trailhead is easy to find and ample parking is available.
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve: An easy 4.5-mile scenic loop full of wildlife, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve walk in Huntington Beach takes you through over 1,300 acres of protected wetlands. The scenery includes fresh and saltwater marshes, seabird nesting islands, mudflats and active riparian river banks. Over 200 species of birds have been spotted here and it’s a popular stopover on bird migration routes. You can expect to see lots of ducks, shorebirds, herons, hawks, owls and lizards. You may even catch a glimpse of the endangered western snowy plover and California least tern. Due to the abundance of wildlife, dogs are not allowed on the reserve. The hike starts at the north parking area of Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, which is easy to reach from all directions. There is also a south parking area that can be accessed when going north on Pacific Coast Highway.
Red Rock Canyon: Red Rock Canyon trail in Foothill Ranch has a unique esthetic compared to most hiking spots in Orange County. The gently climbing 4.2-mile trail goes up an oak woodland canyon, eventually ending in a smooth red rock canyon formation that feels transplanted from Arizona. The hike is easy, relaxing and great for families. The whole area is rich with wildlife, including squirrels, lizards and mule deer. There have occasionally been sightings of mountain lions, so use caution and stay on the trail. Sunset is a really great time to do this hike: when the sun gets low, it hits the exposed sandstone red rocks and fills them with even more spectacular color. Arrive early as this hike is popular and does get crowded.
Santiago Oaks Regional Park: A hidden gem in the eastern outskirts of the city of Orange, Santiago Oaks Regional Park is a unique and historic area ripe with exploration opportunities. There are 10 moderate trails ranging from 1.6 to 7.3 miles long that are accessible for hiking, mountain biking and horseback. There are a wide variety of trail options with easy, moderate and difficult hikes available. The park trails also provide access to the Anaheim Hills Trail System and offer spectacular views of northern Orange County. Visitors routinely come across deer, birds, squirrels and rabbits on the hillsides. The park features a nature center that offers exhibits and programs on various natural history topics. Park Rangers provide a variety of interpretive activities including nature walks, slide programs and films (park office and nature center are currently closed due to COVID-19). Parking is easy but does get a little crowded on sunny days.
Carbon Canyon Regional Park: Upstream of the Carbon Canyon Dam in Brea lies 124-acre Carbon Canyon Regional Park. This sprawling park is particularly scenic when the wildflowers are in bloom, offering grassy areas for picnicking and a 4-acre lake with two piers for fishing. The park is home to several species of birds, including California quail, California towhees, black phoebes, western bluebirds and American robins. The park features pleasant nature trails that are perfect for families, casual hikers and amateur naturalists. One of these trails leads to the park's crown jewel: 3 acres of majestic coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). This is one of Orange County's few redwood groves and a natural marvel, considering that Southern California doesn't possess a redwood-friendly climate. The trailhead that leads to the redwood grove begins at the east end parking area of the park.
While we listed six great hiking spots in Orange County, California, there are many more just waiting to be explored. Hiking is a great way to get out, get fresh air, and be in nature. It is proven to have many health benefits, ranging from physical exercise you get when out on the trail, to emotional or mental relief that comes from being immersed in nature. OC Habitats encourages you to get outside and enjoy!