- Location: Aliso Viejo. From I-5, take the Alicia Parkway exit south (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from the south), and go 4 miles. The park is on the right side of the road, 0.2 miles past the intersection with Aliso Creek. From Laguna Beach or Dana Point, take Pacific Coast Highway to Crown Valley Parkway. Head north on Crown Valley for 3 miles and take a left on Alicia Parkway. The park will be on your left at 2 miles. Parking is $3 for weekdays, $5 for weekends and $7 for holidays.
- Agency: Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
- Distance: 6.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 450 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Best season: September – May
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: Fair at the trail head and on the service road; weak to none in the canyon
- Water: None
- Restrooms: Chemical toilets at the trail head and picnic area
- Camping/backpacking: None (Nearest camping is at Crystal Cove State Park)
- Public transportation: OCTA bus route 87 has a stop outside the park entrance
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Yelp page here
- Rating: 5
Updated May 2018
The easiest route to Dripping Cave (also known as Robber’s Cave), arguably Aliso & Wood Canyon Wilderness Park’s most famous landmark, is from the park’s main entrance off Alicia Parkway. While the 3 mile round trip on a paved road from the park entrance to the Wood Canyon Trail is undoubtedly a turnoff for some hikers, the hike’s easy grade makes it a good choice for families and on warm days.
From the parking area, follow the service road southwest for 1.5 miles. For the second half of this segment you have the option of walking along a dirt single-track that parallels the road. While not particularly interesting, this stretch of the hike passes fairly quickly.
When you reach Wood Canyon, you can take a break at an oak-shaded picnic table. From there, pick up the wide Wood Canyon Trail and head north, passing a junction with the Meadows Trail. You soon reach the turnoff for Cave Rock, a large sandstone outcrop with several small caves carved inside. Unfortunately the formation has suffered from vandalism but it is still an enjoyable side-excursion, both for the interesting geology and the views from the top of the rock.
A faint trail curves around the back side of Cave Rock and drops back into Wood Canyon to rejoin the main route. You soon reach the next turnoff for Dripping Cave, a larger, wider cave utilized by robbers as a hideout in the 1800s. A short footbridge leads you into the cave where you can sit and imagine the spot’s history.
From here, retrace your steps back to the Wood Canyon Trail. If you are short on time you can retrace your steps for a 5 mile round trip hike. If you’re not ready to turn around, you can explore two of the park’s lightly traveled trails, the Nature Loop and Coyote Run, by heading north and deeper into Wood Canyon. At the Mathis Canyon Trail, turn left, cross a seasonal stream and head north on the Coyote Run Trail. It passes into a pleasant oak woodland and through a meadow before reaching the Nature Loop Trail. The Nature Loop Trail climbs steeply up to a ridge with views in both directions before dropping back down to the Mathis Canyon Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the Wood Canyon Trail. From here it is about one mile back to the picnic area and 2.5 miles total back to the trail head.
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.