As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook!
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.
Oak Canyon Nature Center
- Location: Anaheim Hills. From the 91 freeway, take Imperial Highway south (take a left if you are coming from the east; right if you are coming from the west) and go 3/4 of a mile to Nohl Ranch Road. Take a left, go 1.7 miles and turn left on Walnut Canyon (signed for the nature center). Park at the end of the road and walk through the gate.
- Agency: Oak Canyon Nature Center
- Distance: 2.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 250 feet
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Best season: All year
- USGS topo map: Orange
- More information: here
- Rating: 6
The Oak Canyon Nature Center of Anaheim is a sentimental favorite of mine. I discovered this place fairly early in my hiking odyssey. I had recently done a series of milestone hikes–including Sandstone Peak–and picked this one only because it was close to where I had to work that day and it was the only one I had time for. I didn’t have particularly high expectations, but I was very pleasantly surprised.
I’m not going to try to pitch the nature center as true wilderness; the trails never really get away from overhead power lines and housing tracts, but for a quick, convenient getaway from life in Orange County (and other areas), it’s hard to beat this place.
There are several possible routes, but the one outlined here samples the surprising variety the nature center offers. From the visitor center, several trails lead up a gentle slope, all of which end up connecting with Roadrunner Ridge. Take this trail south and then a sharp left brings you into the main area of the park. The trail climbs moderately, passes some sandstone caves, with the canyon on the right far below. After about half a mile, it descends into the canyon, where it follows the stream beneath a shady canopy of oaks. After another half mile, look for the Bluebird Connector trail. Take a sharp left and ascend to Wren Way. This trail begins another moderate climb, now on the south side of the park, but unlike the last ascent, this one is fully shaded. The trail winds around the southwest corner of the nature center and heads back to the north, climbing up a few gentle ridges, before descending back to the visitor center. A few trails branch off, but to follow this route, stay left (except when you see stairs that ascend to residences). If you do happen to stray from this route, odds are you will end up on the main service road that runs through the bottom of the canyon, which is easy to follow back to the visitor center.
For me, coming back here is like visiting an old friend (or a favorite bar). Even after doing several far more adventurous hikes–such as Mt. Baldy, Cucamonga Peak and most recently San Jacinto–the Oak Canyon Nature Center’s variety, attractiveness, proximity and surprising sense of isolation make it a place I’d be happy to visit any day of the week.