Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles Orange County - Coast Rating: 7-8 Season: All year

Laurel Canyon Loop/Laguna Coast Wilderness Park


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  • Location:  Highway 133 between Irvine and Laguna Beach.  From Interstate 405, head south on highway 133.  Look for the parking lot on the right side of the road just past the intersection with El Toro road, 0.7 miles past the 73 freeway overpass.  From Laguna Beach, the trailhead is on the left side of the road, 3 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway (just before El Toro).  Parking is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
  • Agency:  Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good; weak to fair in some spots
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: Chemical toilet at the trail head
  • Camping/backpacking: None (nearest camping is at Crystal Cove State Park)
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information:Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Yelp page here; video of a tarantula hawk wasp at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park here
  • Rating: 7

Mountain and ocean views, shaded canyons, unusual geology and a convenient location make this a perennial favorite of Orange County hikers. Beginners will find it challenging without being unreasonable (especially if they hike it counter-clockwise, as described below, with most of the ascent taking place in the shady recesses of Laurel Canyon) and veteran hikers agree that it holds up well to repeated visits. On cool days, hikers with time and energy can easily add several miles on the Bommer Ridge Trail.

Leave the parking area on a fire road, and almost immediately, look for the turnoff for the Laurel Canyon trail.  (The loop can be hiked either way, but it’s a lot easier counter-clockwise).  You’ll pass by a sandstone boulder with a cave carved straight through it. The trail makes a short climb and descent and then passes through a meadow parallel to the road.  Then it angles to the left, passing by a giant boulder with holes resembling eyes and a mouth (nicknamed “Ghost Rock.”)

After about half a mile, you enter a woodland, where sycamores and oaks provide shade. The ascent becomes pretty vigorous at this point, reaching a junction after a mile or so. Take a left on the fire road, which continues its ascent to meet Willow Canyon Road. A short climb brings you to Bommer Ridge, where, weather permitting, you can get great views of the ocean and Crystal Cove State Park to the north.

When you are done enjoying the views, descend via Willow Canyon Road, which drops efficiently back to the parking area, taking in nice views of Old Saddleback along the way. You also may notice the Laurel Canyon trail meandering through the meadow below.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA
Sandstone cave near the parking lot
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Ghost Rock, Laurel Canyon Trail
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA
Sunlight through oaks in upper Laurel Canyon
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA
Old Saddleback from Willow Spur

Text and photography copyright 2018 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.

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5 comments

  1. This was my first hike with you D-Lock!! I totally remember the “anatomical” rock! I remember being thankful we did it counter-clockwise… still got my heart rate up though!

  2. Thanks for posting all this information. I’m new to the area and haven’t found any sites that have such a comprehensive listing of hiking spots. Can’t wait to get out there!

  3. Great hike info. Is this hike usually crowded on weekday mornings/afternoons? I like your guides and posts VERY much.

    1. Thank you! Glad to help out. Personally I haven’t visited this trail for some time, but my recollection is that it’s usually fairly quiet during the weekday mornings, although it’s likely to pick up some during the afternoons. Enjoy!

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