Difficulty PG13 Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Hikes with free parking Orange County - Coast Rating: 7-8 Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Rock It/Cholla Loop (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)


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Looking east from the West Ridge Trail, Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Looking east from the West Ridge Trail, Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Looking down into Wood Canyon from the Rock It Trail
Looking down into Wood Canyon from the Rock It Trail

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.

Rock It/Cholla Loop (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

  • Location:  Hills north of Laguna Beach in south Orange County.  From I-405, take the highway 133 exit south for 8.5 miles.  Turn left on Forest, which becomes 3rd St, and after 0.3 miles total take a left onto Park Ave.  Go 1.8 miles on Park to its terminus in Alta Laguna Drive, and head left, and park at the end of the street.
  • Agency:  Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Difficulty Rating:  PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain, terrain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season:  October – June
  • USGS topo maps: “San Juan Capistrano”; “Laguna Beach”
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun block; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Orange County
  • More information: here;  Everytrail report here; park map here
  • Rating: 7

This enjoyable and varied loop visits both the elevated ridges and secluded lowlands of Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.  As a “reverse” hike, most of the effort will be on the return, but if you hike in the late afternoon or evening, you will be able to watch a great sunset from the trailhead; a suitable reward for the energy and time spent.

From the Top of the World trailhead, follow the West Ridge Trail, an exposed fire road, north and downhill. At 0.6 miles, stay left at a junction with the Mathis Canyon Trail. The fire road continues, reaching a junction at 1.6 miles. Turn right on the Rock It Trail (the West Ridge trail continues north; this will be your return.)

The Rock It Trail starts out predictably enough, continuing the descent on a fire road, but after crossing under some power lines, the route suddenly becomes a rugged single-track. You descend the spine of the ridge with nice views in both directions, navigating a few tricky spots of rough terrain.

At about 3 miles from the trailhead, you reach the bottom of the ridge. Turn left on the short but scenic Coyote Run trail, which heads through a peaceful, attractive grove of oaks and sycamores before joining the Wood Canyon Trail, a fire road that is the main route though the lower part of the park (3.3 miles.)

Turn left and head north on the Wood Canyon Trail. In 0.1 miles, you reach a junction with the Wood Creek Trail, a slightly longer and challenging–and more scenic–alternative to the fire road. You follow it through a cavernous group of oaks, alongside the seasonal creek. The trail makes a short but steep climb up some stairs before descending and rejoining the Wood Canyon Trail (3.9 miles.)

Continuing on the Wood Canyon Trail, you pass a junction with the Lynx Trail, a shorter alternate return to the West Ridge Trail. The Wood Canyon Trail continues to meet the Cholla Trail (4.3 miles.) Turn left and begin your climb out of the canyon, gaining about 250 feet over the next 0.3 miles to meet up with the northern end of the West Ridge Trail. Turn left and begin the return leg of the trip. In the distance, you’ll see the ridgeline of Top of the World, your destination. After 0.6 miles, you return to the junction with the Rock It Trail. Finish the hike by retracing your steps, 1.6 miles back to Alta Laguna Blvd.

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