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.
Santiago Oaks Regional Park/Robber’s Peak
- 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 (special shout-out to the ranger who let me park for free last Friday when I didn’t have exact change and the machine wouldn’t take my debit card).
- Agency: Santiago Oaks Regional Park
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 850 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: All year
- USGS topo maps: Orange
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
- More information: Homepage here; Yelp page here
- Rating: 6
Santiago Oaks Regional Park is an important part of Orange County’s network of hiking trails. Located almost literally in the center of the county, this park not only has a nice little network of short trails within its boundaries, but longer ones that extend to Irvine Regional Park to the southeast and Weir Canyon to the north.
While some parks have only one or two hiking routes, you can come to SORP many times and never do the exact same trip twice. On hot days, it’s best to stay in the park’s shaded lower regions, perhaps making a visit to the historic dam or Rinker’s Grove, but on days when you want a little more of an adventure, try the following route out for size. On paper, it would look a little bit like a figure 8 drawn by someone using their weaker hand.
From the nature center, pick up the Santiago Creek trail and follow it for about half a mile, where the Pony Trail splits off to the right. Follow the Santiago Creek trail to the left, up a hill, and then pickup the Bobcat Meadow trail. Take a quick left on the Sage Ridge trail, and then a quick right onto the Grasshopper Trail.
You’ll stay on this trail for a while; it climbs steeply at first but soon gains a ridge, where it provides nice views of the Santa Ana Mountains to the east, and on clear days, Baldy and the Ontario/Cucamonga ridge to the north. You pass by a shade structure where you can sit, cool off and enjoy views of northern Orange County; on some days the ocean is visible.
After another half mile or so, you arrive at a four-way junction. Go straight to pick up the Oak Trail, and head right toward Robber’s Peak. The outcrop is named in “honor” of 19th century bandits Joaquin Murrieta and “Three Finger Jack.” Unfortunately, the peak has been inundated with graffiti. It can be reached from the other side, but this route will go just underneath the top, taking in similar views, without as much vandalism.
Just before the summit, head right on the fire road and look for the Yucca Ridge trail. The trail dips back into the canyon, and as you descend, the signs of outside life disappear. At the bottom of the hill, pick up the Bumblebee Trail to the right, which climbs out of the canyon. There is some interesting geology on this part of the hike. The trail switchbacks up to the intersection you passed earlier. This time, continue straight ahead on the Bumblebee Trail until it meets the Oak Trail. Turn left and descend the ridge, returning to the lower section of the park.
After about a quarter mile, head right on the Wilderness Trail, and bear left on the Sourgrass Trail and then make a quick right on the Rinker Grove trail, which takes you through a nice wooded area. Finally, bear left on the Tohwee Trail, which merges with the Santiago Creek Trail, near the parking lot.
While the above route admittedly sounds a little convoluted, one doesn’t have to follow it to the letter to enjoy the varied scenery of Santiago Oaks Regional Park. The park’s signage is pretty good, and with a map, you shouldn’t have any problems figuring out where you want to go.