Wildwood Canyon (Santa Clarita)

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Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Panoramic view from the Highland Loop Trail

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

Oak grove on the Wildwood Loop Trail

Wildwood Canyon (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita. From the 14 Freeway, take the Newhall Ave. exit and head west (left if you’re coming from L.A.; right if from Palmdale). Follow Newhall Ave. a total of 1.7 miles. Note that you will need to stay in the left lane to stay on Newhall when it intersects with Railroad Avenue. Past the William Hart Museum, follow Newhall through the rotary and then turn left on Market. Go 0.6 miles and turn left on Cross. Go 0.3 miles to Haskell Vista Lane and turn right. The signed trail head is just past the last house, where the street makes a hairpin right turn and becomes a private way. Park where available, noting posted restrictions.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 350 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo map: Newhall
        • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
        • More information: here; Yelp page here
        • Rating: 6
Wildwood Canyon Park trail head, Santa Clarita, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Haskell View Lane (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks, Santa Clarita’s Wildwood Canyon Park (also known as Wildwood Canyon Open Space) is a 95-acre open space nestled between the 5 and 14 Freeways. Compared to Santa Clarita’s other nature parks, Wildwood feels more like wilderness, in part due to the variety of plant life (oaks, manzanitas, chaparral and more) and also due to the somewhat confusing network of official and unofficial trails and lack of signage distinguishing the two. The good news is that due to the park’s proximity to civilization and relatively small size it’s hard to get too seriously lost here and it’s a fun place to wander around without any specific agenda.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:15 – View from the first junction; head straight down into the canyon (times are approximate)

Those who do want to follow an exact route however will enjoy the 3-mile hike described below, which circles the perimeter of the park on some of the more clearly, better maintained trails. From the trail head on Haskell Vista Lane, follow the path as it climbs uphill, making a series of switchbacks before gaining a ridge at half a mile where a panoramic view of the canyon awaits. It descends briefly to a junction with the Cross Motorway. Stay straight and descend into the canyon, reaching another intersection at 0.8 miles. This is the start of the loop which can be done in either direction. If it’s warm or hot, consider going counter-clockwise as described here, allowing you to save an enjoyable shaded stretch for last.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:20 – Start of the loop portion of the hike

Continue straight and begin a steep ascent to a clearing with a trash can and a makeshift fire pit. As a detour, you can follow a use trail on the left down into an attractive wooded canyon but watch out for poison oak. The trail continues uphill, now marked as the Highland Trail on the official park map. It skirts the upper rim of the canyon, crossing two small wooden footbridges. Shortly after the second, you reach the highest spot on the route, signed as a vista point on the map, although there are no benches, shade structures or other facilities here. Still you can enjoy a nice view of the Santa Clarita Valley and the Sierra Pelona mountains beyond.

Highland Loop Trail, Wildwood Canyon, Santa Clarita, CA

0:24 – Highland Loop steeply ascending past the picnic area

The trail continues past a junction with a spur that drops back into the canyon. Stay straight and begin descending, passing by a large red water tank and making a switchback. To the east, you can see the end of the San Gabriel Mountains towering beyond the buildings of the nearby Hart Museum and Ranch.

Water tank in Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

0:47 – Passing the water tank on the descent

At 2 miles, you reach the end of the Highland Loop Trail. Turn left and follow the trail into a grove of oaks. At dusk, this area is particularly attractive; but for the presence of some graffiti (and bugs during the evening) it would match up favorably against the best woodlands of the Santa Monica Mountains. Ignore a trail branching off to the left before exiting the woods and returning to the junction, completing the loop. Turn right and retrace your steps up to the other junction and back down the hill to Haskell View.

Wildwood Canyon Park, Santa Clarita, CA

1:05 – Left turn on the Wildwood Loop Trail, heading into the woods

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Dagobah Swamp

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Yoda's hut in the Dagobah Swamp

Yoda’s hut in the Dagobah Swamp

Image: LA Weekly

Dagobah Swamp

  • Location: Outer rim territories. Even from the relatively close planet of Hoth, allow at least a week for travel by X-wing fighter. Parking is $5 per vehicle on weekdays; $7 on weekends and holidays.
  • Agency: Confederacy of Independent Systems/Sluis Sector
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: Year-round but hot during the summer
  • Recommended gear: Light sabre
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 6

The Dagobah Swamp is best known as the home of Jedi master Yoda and as the site of Luke Skywalker’s training in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” It also makes for a short but challenging hike. While the isolation of the planet appeals to many hikers (you won’t have to share the route with mountain bikers or equestrians because since Yoda’s death, no intelligent life remains in the swamp) some may find it difficult to traverse the uneven terrain of the wetlands. Hikers sensitive to the Dark Side of the Force might want to exercise caution as well.

Given the lack of any established landing area near the swamp, the exact location of your touchdown may vary. Head into the swamp, keeping an eye out for vine snakes and sleens. Soon you’ll notice Yoda’s hut in the distance; following his death in 4 ABY, the site while still under jurisdiction of the Sluis Sector has been maintained by volunteers from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

After a mile, you reach the end of the swamp where you can relax in Yoda’s hut before retracing your steps. If you still have energy you can continue to nearby Mt. Yoda, a four-mile round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

San Dimas Canyon Loop

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Panoramic view above San Dimas Canyon, San Gabriel Valley, CA

Looking southwest from the vista point

Dusk in San Dimas Canyon, Los Angeles County, CA

Dusk on the Poison Oak Trail, San Dimas Canyon

San Dimas Canyon Loop

  • Location: Horsethief Canyon Park, San Dimas. From points east, take the 210 Freeway to the Foothill exit. Turn right on Foothill Blvd. and go 0.4 miles to San Dimas Canyon Road. Turn right and go 0.3 miles and bear left on Sycamore Canyon Road. Go 0.2 miles and turn left onto Horsethief Canyon Road and follow it to the parking area. From the west, take the 210 Freeway take the San Dimas Avenue exit. Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Foothill Blvd. Turn right and go 0.8 miles to San Dimas Canyon Road. Turn left and follow San Dimas Canyon Rd. for 0.3 miles and bear left on Sycamore Canyon Road. Go 0.2 miles, turn left on Horsethief Canyon Road and follow it to the parking area.
  • Agency: L.A. County Parks & Recreation; City of San Dimas
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 550 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: Year round (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Glendora
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Trip description (hiking clockwise with the steep climb first) here; San Dimas Canyon Park page here; Horsethief Canyon Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 6
Horsethief Canyon Park

0:00 – Trail head at Horsethief Canyon Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop, which visits L.A. County’s San Dimas Canyon Park and the City of San Dimas’s Horsethief Canyon Park, offers a pleasant variety of scenery and a surprisingly good workout, conveniently located to the residential neighborhoods of the San Gabriel Valley and western end of the Inland Empire. Hikers who think they’ve seen it all when it comes to this area might want to give this loop a look.

Trail above Horsetheif Canyon Park, San Dimas, CA

0:07 – Bear left at the “Y” junction (times are approximate)

From Horsethief Canyon Park, follow the main fire road past a gazebo, playing field and dirt horse track. The trail bends to the right and reaches a Y-fork. Take the left path, following it past a lone willow tree to an intersection a quarter mile from the start; this is the beginning of the loop. The straight route is your return. Take a hairpin right turn and follow the trail through a pleasant grove of oaks, dropping into San Dimas Canyon near a group of stables (0.5 miles.)

Hiking trail above Horsethief Canyon Park, San Dimas, CA

0:10 – Hard right at the junction, beginning the loop portion of the hike

Here, take a hard left and follow the trail gradually uphill, passing by more oaks, paralleling Sycamore Canyon Road. Don’t be deterred by a yellow “Trail Closed” sign; according to local hikers and equestrians who frequent the area, this warning exists simply for liability purposes as you are now on land not under the jurisdiction of either park. As of this writing the trail appears to be fairly well maintained and regularly traveled.

At 0.9 miles, you reach an attractive clearing where you can rest at a picnic table; an abandoned stone chimney pokes up from the grass. From here, pick up the Poison Oak Trail (don’t worry, there are only trace amounts of the hated plant) which heads uphill through a narrow, wooded tributary of San Dimas Canyon, reaching a fire road at 1.2 miles.

Woodlands, San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:15 – Hard left at the next junction, heading into the woods

From here, turn left and follow the road uphill, enjoying a nice view of Mt. Wilson and the western San Gabriels through the trees. At 1.5 miles, you reach a clearing with picnic tables and outstanding vistas including the Ontario/Cucamonga Ridge, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, the Santa Anas, downtown Los Angeles and a nearly aerial view of the neighborhoods below.

Stone ruins in San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:25 – Abandoned chimney at the picnic area

After enjoying the panorama, look for a steep trail descending past a pair of white posts. Loose in some spots, the trail switchbacks expeditiously back down to the junction, completing the loop. From here, retrace your steps back to the parking lot at Horsethief Canyon Park.

Fire road above San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:35 – Left turn on the fire road

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Vista point above San Dimas Canyon, CA

0:55 – Starting the steep descent from the vista point back to the junction

Deep Creek Hot Springs via Bowen Ranch

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Deep Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

Upstream view of Deep Creek from the trail

Spring wildflowers above Deep Creek, San Bernardino Mountains, Lake Arrowhead, CA

Spring wildflowers above Deep Creek

Deep Creek Hot Springs via Bowen Ranch

      • Location: Northwest San Bernardino Mountains between Hesperia and Lake Arrowhead. From I-15 in Hesperia, head east on Main Street for 7.2 miles. Just as the road bends south, take a right on Rock Springs Road, which becomes Roundup Way after 2.8 miles. Continue for 4.3 miles on Roundup Way (the last mile or so is dirt) and turn right on Bowen Ranch Road. Follow Bowen Ranch Road for a total of 5.4 miles to the signed entrance to the ranch (stay right at the junctions with Coxey Creek Road and Oak Hill Road). The road is overall in decent condition but there are a few rough spots; high clearance and 4WD vehicles are best but not required. After paying a $5 per person fee (or $10 per person for overnight use) continue 0.7 miles to the trail head. As of this writing, the last few hundred yards of the road are in rough condition so if you’re uncomfortable taking your car over it, you can park in a small turnout shortly before and walk the rest of the way. Trail head coordinates are N 34 21.510, W 117 09.881.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 3.6 miles
      • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Best season: September – May
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: Hiking polessun hat;  sunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
      • More information: Deep Creek Hot Springs information here; trip description here; Everytrail report here; Yelp page here; photos and videos of the hike here
      • Rating: 7
Deep Creek Hot Springs Trail Head, Bowen Ranch, San Bernardino County, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The most popular way to reach Deep Creek Hot Springs is from the north, starting at Bowen Ranch. This route is also the easiest, covering the shortest distance and the least amount of elevation gain compared to the routes via the Pacific Crest Trail and Bradford Ridge. It is also arguably the most scenically interesting, providing dramatic views of the creek on the descent. There are a few caveats, though: the descent is steep and exposed, often over somewhat loose terrain. Temperatures in the area can be notoriously hot, making for difficult ascents from the springs for those who don’t plan accordingly. Getting to the trail head is somewhat tricky, requiring almost seven miles of driving on dirt roads. This is also the only route that requires payment; $5 per person (not per vehicle). Lastly, unlike the other two approaches, this one requires fording Deep Creek to visit the hot springs. If the water levels are low, the creek is fairly easy to traverse but caution should still be exercised. Despite these potential challenges, this is an enjoyable hike to a unique destination; its popularity is understandable.

San Bernardino Mountains panorama en route to Deep Creek Hot Springs

0:08 – Top of the ridge, before the first steep descent (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the trail south. You soon reach an overlook with a pair of interpretive plaques that sadly have been vandalized beyond the point of recognition. There is, however, an impressive view of the eastern San Gabriel summits (Baldy, Telegraph, etc) and of the western San Bernardino Mountains.

At 0.3 miles, the trail drops sharply, making a steep descent over loose terrain into a wash. At the bottom, bear right and follow the trail to a dirt road. Turn left, walk a few hundred feet to an alternate trail head (0.5 miles from the start) and begin hiking the “official” Deep Creek trail, signed 3W02.

Trail to Deep Creek Hot Springs, San Bernardino National Forest

0:16 – Bear right on the trail after leaving the dirt road

You follow the trail through a canyon, getting a glimpse of Deep Creek’s gorge at about 0.8 miles. Vegetation includes mesquite, Manzanita and cat’s claw. At 1.1 miles, you get your first view of the creek itself, cutting its serpentine path through the mountains. From here, the trail begins another steep descent, making a switchback that provides an impressive view to the west and finally dropping to the sandy shores of Deep Creek (1.8 miles.) The year-round stream supports a diverse array of plants, including cottonwoods, sycamores and even a lone pine.

Panoramic view of Deep Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

0:26 – Looking down at the gorge

If you are nervous about crossing the creek, this can be a nice spot to sit and enjoy the scenery before heading back. Adventurous hikers can wade through water that is likely to be at least knee-high to the pools on the south side of the creek.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Deep Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

0:45 – View of Deep Creek from the north side

Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

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View of Hot Springs Mountain, highest point in San Diego County from the Pacific Crest Trail near Warner Springs, CA

View of Hot Springs Mountain during the first mile of the hike

Crossing Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA

Agua Caliente Creek

Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Highway 79 near Warner Springs, northeast San Diego County. The starting point is a dirt lot on the south side of the road. The location is 36.3 miles east of I-15, 1.3 miles west of Warner Springs and 16.3 miles northwest of Santa Ysabel. Trail head coordinates are N 33 17.296, W 116 39.379.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 9.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Warner Springs; Hot Springs Mountain
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Day and Section Hikes Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California
  • More information: Trip description here; Description from a through-hiker’s blog here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Starting point for the hike to Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, Highway 79, Warner Springs, CA

0:00 – The parking area;  P.C.T. decal points across the street (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is arguably the most popular day hike out of Warner Springs, with the possible exception of Eagle Rock. It follows a pleasant stretch of the P.C.T. as it heads north from Highway 79, paralleling Agua Caliente Creek, which usually flows year round. While the scenery isn’t quite as dramatic as it is on the way to Eagle Rock, this section of the Pacific Crest Trail still offers a nice cross-section of the landscape around Warner Springs. The 9.4-mile round trip described here is a good, moderate day hike, but it can easily be shortened or extended.

Oak woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

0:30 – Entering the woodlands (times are approximate)

From the turnout, carefully cross Highway 79 and follow a dirt road past a fence. You soon meet up with the signed Pacific Crest Trail. Bear left onto the P.C.T. and follow it through an attractive, oak-dotted field. Hot Springs Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County, can be seen to the northeast.

View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente Creek, San Diego County, CA

0:51 – View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains after climbing out of the canyon

At about 1.1 miles, you enter the woods. You pass through private land on an easement, soon crossing Agua Caliente Creek for the first of several times. The trail then climbs above the creek, providing panoramic views to the west and of the Bucksnort Mountains to the north. Vegetation along this stretch includes beavertail and cholla cacti, yuccas, manzanita and oak. You reach a saddle (3 miles) where the trail descends back to the creek (3.3 miles) passing by a makeshift trail camp.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

1:22 – Trail camp near where the P.C.T. crosses the creek

Keeping an eye out for poison oak, you cross the creek twice, reach another primitive camp and continue deeper into the canyon. A few pines can be seen sticking up from the oaks and sycamores. The trail briefly climbs the west side of the creek before dropping back down. At about 4 miles, you pass a wall of granite. At 4.6 miles, the trail enters a sloping meadow and soon after, you reach another trail camp; a perfect spot to relax beneath the oaks, accompanied by the sound of the trickling stream.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

1:32 – Second trail camp by the creek

Beyond, the trail leaves the canyon and continues uphill toward Lost Valley Road and Combs Peak. For day hikers, this is the recommended turnaround point. The coordinates are N 33 19.290, W 116 37.356.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA

2:05 – Trail camp at the turnaround point

Horse Trail (Eaton Canyon Natural Area)

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Wildflowers, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

Wildflowers in Eaton Canyon

Pines on the Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

Pine grove near the top of the Horse Trail

Horse Trail (Eaton Canyon Natural Area)

  • Location: Pasadena. From the I-210 freeway, take the Altadena Drive exit and head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.6 miles. The entrance to the park will beo n the right.
  • Agency: Eaton Canyon Nature Center; Angeles National Forest
  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo map: Mt. Wilson
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
Eaton Canyon trail head, Pasadena, CA

0:00 – Horse Trail/Eaton Canyon Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Eaton Canyon Natural Area in Pasadena is best known as an access point for the lower end of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road and for its popular (and infamous) waterfall. However, hikers shouldn’t overlook the Horse Trail, which provides a short but vigorous workout with some panoramic mountain and city views. Best done on cool days with good visibility, the vistas from the Horse Trail include the Santa Monica Mountains, Catalina Island, Old Saddleback and a nearly aerial perspective on the residential areas of the north San Gabriel Valley.

Oaks in Eaton Canyon, Pasasdena, CA

0:09 – Oak woodlands (times are approximate)

The network of trails through and around the nature center invite meandering and exploring, but for the purposes of this post, the most direct route involves a pleasant 0.6 mile stroll along the park’s main trail followed by a climb of 0.6 miles on the Horse Trail to its upper end at the toll road. From the parking area, take the right trail (the left leads to a picnic area with water fountains for both human and canine hikers) and follow it past fields of spring flowers with the mountains making an impressive backdrop.

Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

0:18 – Start of the Horse Trail

At 0.25 miles, cross the stream (dry as of this writing) and enter a pleasant woodland, ignoring several trails that branch to the right. Continue north, ascending gradually, making your way in and out of pockets of oaks. Poison oak, while not hugely prevalent, is found along the sides of the trail. At 0.6 miles where the main route continues north toward the waterfall, turn right on the Horse Trail which begins its efficient climb up the canyon’s east wall. The trail is largely exposed, although a few pleasant spots do provide some shade. About half way up is a spot with some excellent views, including downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles as seen from the Horse Trail, Pasadena, CA

0:27 – View of Los Angeles from the Horse Trail

Shortly before the top of the trail, look for a pleasant pine grove (a miniature version of Henninger Flats, farther up the toll road). This is an excellent spot to sit and rest, especially if the day is hot. Between the trees, glimpses of downtown, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Signal Hill and more can be seen. Shortly beyond this point, the trail makes one final switchback before meeting the toll road. Ambitious hikers can continue uphill another two miles or so to Henninger Flats, while those who want some variety on the descent can make a loop by descending the toll road and following the Eaton Canyon Trail back to the nature center.

Mt. Wilson Toll Road as seen from the Horse Trail, Eaton Canyon, Pasadena, CA

0:40 – The Mt. Wilson Toll Road as seen from the top of the Horse Trail

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

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Spring wildflowers, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Looking northwest from the Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Greenery at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Oaks and green grass on the Horseshoe Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

  • Location: Santa Ana Foothills east of Orange.  From the 55 freeway, take the Chapman Avenue exit and head east for 4.2 miles until you get to Jamboree Road.  Take a left on Jamboree and a right into the park.  From the north, take the Katella Avenue exit from the 55 freeway, head east and drive 4.6 miles to Jamboree and take a left (Katella becomes Villa Park and then Santiago Canyon Road on the way).  Parking is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.  For access to this hike, park in lot #7.
  • Agency: Irvine Regional Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Orange
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trip descriptions (slightly different routes) here, here and here
  • Rating: 5
Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Leaving parking lot #7; note the trail branching off on the right side of the road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

In addition to being Orange County’s oldest public park (1887), Irvine Regional Park is home to the O.C. Zoo, a miniature railroad, several nice picnic areas and for the purposes of this website, a number of hiking trails. The trails loop around the park, heading northwest to Santiago Oaks Regional Park and south to Peters Canyon Regional Park, making for endless possible routes of all lengths. While Irvine isn’t as isolated as Caspers, Whiting Ranch and some of Orange County’s other regional parks, it still offers a nice variety of scenery, a convenient escape from city life. Though it may be hot during the summer, the hills and distances are moderate enough for it to be considered a year-round hiking destination.

Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:04 – Turn left on the Horseshoe Loop Trail (times are approximate)

This post follows the route as described in “Afoot and Afield”, mainly utilizing the park’s popular Horseshoe Loop Trail; also the Toyon Trail and some paved service and access roads. Hikers on a tight time frame should be able to easily knock it off in an hour; those hiking with small kids or dogs (this is one of the few dog-friendly regional parks in O.C.) should allow an hour an a half to follow this route.

Bench at an overlook, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:21 – Overlook on the Horseshoe Loop Trail

From lot #7, head left on the paved road and pick up the trail on the right, heading uphill between two wooden fences. You soon reach a junction with the Horseshoe Loop Trail where you’ll turn left and then almost immediately left again as the Puma Ridge Trail heads uphill. Follow the Horseshoe Trail along a north-facing ridge, enjoying views of the Santa Ana Mountains. In the spring, the grass and wildflowers can be quite attractive and considering that you are only about one hundred feet above the basin of the park, the views are quite wide-ranging.

Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:32 – Rejoining the park road; trail follows parallel on the right

More climbing brings you to a vista point (0.8 miles) where you can sit on a bench beneath a pine or under a shade structure. From here, the trail descends to cross a private service road (1.1 miles) and soon after joins the main road, which it parallels for 0.2 miles to the last parking lot. The road, still paved but now closed to the public, heads north and then west, skirting the park’s boundary.

Rooster Rock, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:50 – Rooster Rock

At 1.8 miles, the northern branch of the Horseshoe Trail splits off to the right, heading uphill. Take a short detour to Rooster Rock, a sandstone formation likely named for its outcrops that resemble poultry beaks and combs. A pair of oaks provide nice shade beneath the rock while a few use trails allow the curious to explore the top of the formation, which offers a bird’s eye view of this area of the park.

After visiting Rooster Rock, head back and follow the Horseshoe Trail as it makes its way up a hillside to a junction. The two paths soon merge again, although the right fork climbs higher and offers better views. From here, the trail levels out, contouring along the north side of the park to a junction at 2.3 miles. This is the Toyon Trail, which descends to a shade structure and then follows a wooden staircase back down to the center of the park. Head right on the paved road and follow as it passes a picnic area, the railroad tracks and a small lake before ending at a T-junction. Turn right and follow the main road back to the parking area.

Shade structure at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

1:05 – Shade structure on the Toyon Trail

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.