If you happen to be a hiking enthusiast in Orange County, then first off— well done for being able to hike in this heat, especially during the year round summer temperatures!
However, if you are “crazy” enough to brave any more hikes through these California temperatures, there are ten excellent trails that hikers of all skill levels have found beautiful and rewarding. Wherever you live in OC, and whatever your budget (and whatever your capacity for critter encounters), there is at least one trail, and probably many more, that will make you want to return again and again.
Here are ten of the best hiking locations in the OC area:
1. Crystal Cove State Park
Location: Laguna Beach
On the plus side: “Crystal Cove is perfect for beachgoers, hikers, and just about any outdoor enthusiast! You can also surf, boogie board, scuba dive, and mountain bike.” Yelp
On the down side: I’m not a cheap person, but… If I paid to park here, I’d be broke, because when I’m in the area, I’m here every day. Yelp
Description: If you are willing to pay the somewhat steep price for parking, then you could be in for a beautiful day trip where you can relax on the three miles of coastline after you work up a sweat hiking on trails that many describe as fairly intense. In fact, the price tag helps eliminate the crowds of people there, which makes the location even more valuable because you don’t have to fight your way through crowds of people.
While you are doing any of those activities, however, keep an eye out for both cute and scary critters on the trail and in tide pools that can range from starfish and lobsters, to lizards and even rattlesnakes!
2. Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Location: Laguna Beach
On the plus side: “It’s serene, peaceful, and not crowded at all.” Yelp
On the downside: They lock the gates at 5pm. Signs are posted, and the ranger reminds you when you check in, so they must be pretty serious about it. Yelp
Description: A huge 7,000-acre park that has dense woodlands and coastal canyons that yield a terrific view. You can access a both moderate and more intense trails here, depending on your preference. However, make sure to go as early in the day as possible (though not before the trail opens at 8AM), because most people who go, especially during mid-summer, can testify that the temperatures tend to skyrocket pretty fast in that area! The staff are also very helpful, and will happily tell you which trails best suit your particular interests.
3. El Modena Open Space
On the plus side: Very nice hiking trail that doesn’t seem to get a lot of traffic, so that’s always a huge plus. Very, very steep, which is also part of the appeal of the place because it’s a nice good workout. Yelp
On the down side: “…a TON of cacti all covering the area, so if you’re going to wear shorts make sure you don’t get too close to the needles!” Yelp
Description: This hidden gem has more accommodating time frames during which you can use the space than some of the other featured trails, trails of moderate difficulty, and lovely aerial views. It may not be as visually impressive as some of the others, but is definitely worth doing if you’re in the area.
4. Anaheim Hills Walking and Riding Trail
On the plus side: “The views on the way up to the south are gorgeous, green rolling hills. Some great topography on this hike, as well.” Yelp
On the down side: “It’s not very “wildernessy” (there aren’t many spots where you can’t see houses or other man-made objects)…” Yelp
Description: Yet another somehow hidden and remote site in the midst of an urban area, Anaheim Hills features lovely rolling hills, with beautiful flora and fauna in the springtime especially. Many people are also appreciative of the free and plentiful parking, which can be an issue at many of these trails. If you chose to wander off the beaten track, however, then keep an eye out for the occasional snake or tarantula (and according to some rumors, possible mountain lion tracks)!
5. Santiago Oaks Regional Park
On the plus side: “This is the absolute best hike I’ve been on in California so far. I visited on a Monday morning, and it was easy to find parking, and I was alone the entire way!” Yelp
On the down side: “Make sure to print and bring the map from their website because there are so many trails and it can get confusing trying to figure out where you are without it.” Yelp
Description: Though all the trails have the chance of encountering critters, your chances may never be higher at Santiago Oaks. In addition to the wildlife, there are many trails that range from beginner to advanced, and there are enough trails that you can spend as long as you want hiking through different paths. Many people find this to be a place where they can be one with nature. For optimum peace and savings on parking, try to come during a weekday… and definitely not during a holiday, where the price tag is at it steepest.
6. Black Star Canyon Trail
On the plus side: “The trail was fun with streams and boulders. You’re truly emerged with nature during this adventure, with shades that you don’t get from many other trails in OC.” Yelp
On the down side: “The one real bad part of this hike is the trash other inconsiderate people leave.” Yelp
Description: This is a strange trail that is worth exploring just because of the mystique that surrounds the place. Some say it is haunted by paranormal activity, and many people feel that there is something strange about its well-known waterfall. Regardless, it is a decent trail with many long, beautiful trails to offer to a hiker… and one should make sure to visit after it rains in order to see the waterfall in its full glory
7. Buck Gully Reserve
Location: Newport Coast
On the plus side: “Gorgeous ocean views from this hilltop trailhead. Adjacent parking and well marked trail heads with a shorter and longer hike as options.” Yelp
On the down side: “A downfall would be the narrow paths that you have to share with mountain bikers.” Yelp
Description: This trail was able to re-open a few years ago due to preservation efforts, and all of those who happen upon Buck Gully are grateful for it. With plentiful water streams and ample shade to keep you comfortable if you wish to pursue the entire 4.5 mile hike, this area has much to offer in terms of a challenge and natural beauty.
8. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Location: Newport Beach
On the plus side: “When I stop to enjoy the view (a little past the bridge of Jamboree), you can see fish jump out of the water, you can see the waves slowly caress the rocks beneath you, you can feel the wind on your face, and you can hear the bicyclist zoom past you.” Yelp
On the down side: “There is no shade – it’s all wetlands or desert chaparral. You are always aware you are in the city with business buildings and residential areas in view plus it’s in the flight path of John Wayne airport.” Yelp
Description: The wide paths on this trail can accommodate a range of ways of getting around, including bicycling, running, strollers, and dogwalkers. This versatility, combined with the scenic paths, make this trail an increasingly popular one with many different people.
9. Peters Canyon Regional Park
On the plus side: “Coolest part is that you can make your hike to be easy or hard depending on what you are looking for by simply choosing to go left or right when you come to a fork on the trail.” Yelp
On the down side: “Busy with locals, a bit rocky/uneven (if you’re looking to run), not many great views..” Yelp
Description: Though unfortunately you may go to Peters Canyon only to find out the lake has since dried up, you can still appreciate the flora, fauna, and occasional views of Orange County as you take the easier or the more difficult trails. The trails are easy to navigate… just make sure to bring plenty of water with you, since the place can get unbearably hot!
10. Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
Location: Lake Forest
On the plus side: “Some spots in this park are totally unique. There are huge live oak trees that are easily more than 100 years old, stunning hidden meadows, and even old abandoned shacks that give the place a sense of history and mystery.” Yelp
On the down side: “Only bummer is you can’t bring dogs.” Yelp
Description: One of the most rewarding trails in Orange County, Whiting Ranch offers many different paths, including the aptly-named Dreaded Hill, that provide a range of experiences and challenges. You may see the amazing red rocks, or a peaceful green shaded trail, or steep rocky paths with scenic views. Overall, it has something to offer pretty much every hiker, and is a must-see for trail enthusiasts in the area.