- Location: Foothill Ranch in eastern Orange County. From Interstate 5, take the Bake Parkway exit and head northeast (left if you are coming from the north, or right if from the south) and go 5.5 miles to the end of the road. Take a left on Portola Parkway and a quick right into the shopping center (opposite Market place) and follow the signs for the park. Parking is $3 on week days, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
- Agency: Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
- Distance: 4.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: September – June
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: Good at the trail head, fair to weak up to the picnic area and none near the rocks
- Water: Fountain at the trail head; supplies are also available at the supermarket in the shopping center
- Restrooms: Chemical toilets at the trail head
- Camping/backpacking: None (nearest is at O’Neill Regional Park)
- Public transportation: OCTA bus lines 82 and 177 have stops next the shopping center
- Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- More information: Trip reports here, here, here and here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
You can’t always judge a book by its cover and you can’t always judge a hike by its trail head. If that were the case, most people would ignore Red Rocks in Orange County’s Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park when in fact it’s one of the area’s more popular moderate day hikes. From a less-than-promising beginning at a shopping center, it soon leaves suburbia behind and gives hikers a chance to look at one of Orange County’s most famous geological landmarks. Many of the famous rock formations in the O.C. foothills, such as the Sinks, can only be reached during scheduled activities, but this hike can be done independently.
Follow the trail into a shallow canyon between two bluffs dotted with houses. Other than occasional airplanes overhead, the sights and sounds of civilization soon vanish as you make your way through a pleasant mixed woodland, primarily oaks with a few sycamores. A seasonal stream runs through the canyon. At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction. Bear right onto Mustard Road, an east-west trail that traverses the length of the park and then make a quick left onto the Red Rocks Trail. The route heads through a meadow where the rock formations soon become visible.
At about two miles from the start, you find yourself among the rocks. The pink, orange and brown sandstone formations are about 20 million years old, part of the Sespe Formation. Avoid the temptation to climb on the rocks, both for your own safety and to preserve the integrity of the geology, making sure that future generations can enjoy the close-up views that this trail provides.
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.