- Location: Northeastern Orange County, east of the city of Orange. From route 55, take Katella east (it becomes Villa Park Road and then Santiago Canyon Road) for three miles to Windes Drive. Go left on Windes and follow it for about 3/4 of a mile into the park (the road is narrow and has a lot of sharp turns, so be careful). The parking fee is $3 for the day, or $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
- Agency: Santiago Oaks Regional Park
- Distance: 3.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 900 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: November – May
- Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution on warm days)
- Cell phone reception: Good
- Water: Fountain at the picnic area near the parking lot
- Restrooms: Currently unavailable due to fire closure (normally located near the parking lot)
- Camping/backpacking: None
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
- More information: Map My Hike report here; descriptions of the park (pre-Canyon II Fire) here and here; Yelp page here
- Rating: 6
Updated March 2018
Santiago Oaks Regional Park was hit hard by the Canyon II fire in October of 2017. Fortunately the area has been regrowing. As of this writing, there are still several trail closures in the park (mainly in the lower area, including the Historic Dam and the majority of the Santiago Creek Trail) but most of the ridge-climbing routes are open, allowing for multiple possible hikes. The double-loop described here offers a good workout, panoramic views and for the time being a chance to observe the recovery process following the fire. The route involves several trails but navigation is easy; the park’s signage is good and the closed areas are clearly roped off.
From the parking area, follow the Santiago Creek Trail, crossing the creek via some concrete stepping stones, and merge onto the Towhee Trail (several routes come together here, but the Towhee is the only one open). The Towhee Trail climbs past some oaks that survived the blaze, merging with the Wilderness Trail (again the only open route out of several that converge here.) Head east on the Wilderness Trail to a junction 0.3 mile from the start; this is the beginning of the loop.
Make a hard left on the Peralta Hills Trail and begin climbing the exposed ridge. Power lines and noise from nearby Serrano Avenue make this arguably the least appealing part of the hike, but the Peralta Hills Trail serves the purpose of quickly bringing you to the scenic views to be found at the upper end of the park (as well as burning some calories). A bench about halfway up provides a chance to rest. One mile and 500 feet of elevation gain from the start, you reach a junction with the Oak Trail. Here you get a breather with some good views to boot. Head east, passing a picnic table and begin a descent along the ridge to a four way junction (1.3 mile from the start). You will come back to this point later.
For now, make a hard left on the Bumble Bee Trail (park maps show the trail as being closed but it is open). The Bumble Bee Trail drops back down into the canyon, reaching the bottom in 0.4 mile. Bear right to continue on the Bumble Bee Trail, which now begins a gentle climb out of the canyon, meeting with the Mountain Goat Trail, two miles from the beginning.
The Mountain Goat trail features two descents, a smoother grade recommended for equestrians and a rockier, steeper route favored by mountain bikers. Both eventually lead to the Santiago Creek Trail. Turn right and follow it to the Bobcat Meadow Trail. You can finish the hike by following the Bobcat Meadow Trail back to the Wilderness Trail, but to burn some more calories, take a hard right on the Hawk Trail. The Hawk Trail climbs 300 feet in only 0.3 mile, often over rocky terrain, bringing you back to the junction from earlier. Turn left onto the western leg of the Bumble Bee Trail, which descends to the Oak Trail and a picnic shelter. From here it’s all downhill as you follow the Oak Trail back to the Wilderness Trail. Turn right and follow the Wilderness Trail past the junction with the Peralta Hills Trail and continue west, retracing your steps back to the parking lot.
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.