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

On the Willow Trail, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

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.

Laurel Canyon Loop/Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

  • 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: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: Hiking Poles
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 7

This loop trail in the Laguna Coast Wilderness offers shade on hot days, and on clear days provides great views of the ocean, the Santa Ana Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains and more.  Barely a stone’s throw from the 73 toll road, it still manages to provide a sense of isolation and seclusion.  The hike is not to strenuous for novice hikers, but can still give veterans a good workout.

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 an interesting sandstone rock that looks strangely anatomical (my friends and I have a series of nicknames for this rock, none of which are suitable for print in a family-oriented blog such as this one).  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 rock that reminds of me of the marshmallow man from “Ghostbusters” in a weird sort of way.

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.  Take a right here and make a short climb to Bommer Ridge, where, weather permitting, you can get great views of the ocean and Crystal Cove State Park to the north.

Retrace your steps back to the junction, and continue on the Willow Canyon fire road.  The descent is steady, and you get nice views not only of Old Saddleback and the Santa Ana Mountains, but of the lower areas of the park and the very trail you took.  Before long you arrive back at the parking area.  This is a hike that I have done several times, and while it is definitely best done on a cool, clear day, it has a lot to offer everyone.

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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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