Dilley Preserve and Barbara’s Lake

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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!

Barbara's Lake, Orange County's only natural lake
Barbara’s Lake
Hills in the Dilley Preserve, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA
Hills in the Dilley Preserve

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Dilley Preserve and Barbara’s Lake

  • Location: Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, between Irvine and Laguna Beach.  From I-405, take the highway 133 exit south.  The preserve is on your left, and you must take a U-turn (right before the highway 73 overpass) and take a right into the parking lot.  From Laguna Beach, take Broadway, which becomes Laguna Canyon Road, north and pull into the parking lot just north of highway 73.   The fee is $3 on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
  • Agency: Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 2.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map: “Laguna Beach”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 4

This loop visits Orange County’s only naturally occurring lake, thought to be fed from an underground spring.  Orange County–particularly the nearby community of Irvine–often take their lumps, not helped by copious TV shows that portray the area in a less than flattering light–and a lot of the stereotypes of artifice and superficiality might be true.  But Barbara’s Lake is a reminder that even in the thick of the suburbs, there are still places to escape.

In hiking, often times one sacrifices true isolation for convenience of location, and while this loop never really gets away from freeway noise or the nearby housing tracts, it does make for a nice workout, easily accessible from almost all of Orange County.   There are several possible loops in this area of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, but the one described here takes in the reserve’s best features.

From the parking lot, take the Canyon Trail, passing by groves of coast live oaks and sycamores, as well as a lot of prickly pear cacti.  After a short but steep climb, you arrive at a ridgeline, with the rest of the reserve on your left and Leisure World on the right.  Another trail joins up (stay right) shortly before you arrive at a water tank.  From here, the trail continues north to join the fire road, where you head left and then almost immediately right (the Edison road).  You will get your first look at Barbara’s Lake from here, and the trail descends to the shore.   The small lake is usually very clear, and the trees alongside it nicely frame your views.  From here, pick up the lake trail and head about a mile back to the parking lot.  If you enjoyed Barbara’s Lake, check out the rest of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to the south, or the Nix Nature Center across the street.  Of course, if you just want to head over to the Irvine Spectrum for a veggie burger and soy latte, that’s OK too.


  1. This will be my next local hike! Isn’t this the lake where the escaped hippo lived for a month or so before being caught? Thanks for posting this!

  2. Not so funny I think the hippo did not make it. Looks like a good trek, and of all things a natural lake in the OC!

  3. Yes…a hippo escaped from what was Lion Country Safari way back in the early 1970’s. The hippo would hang out in the middle of the lake with only it’s nose showing…and creating “bubbles” ..hence the nick name for the lake “Bubbles Lake”
    The hippo died from what I believe was a heart attack from the stress of being caught.

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