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.
Dreaded Hill Loop, Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
- Location: Near Foothill Ranch in southeast Orange County. From I-5, take the El Toro Rd. exit and drive northeast for 4.6 miles. Take a left on Portola Parkway and go 0.8 miles to Glenn Ranch Road. Take a right on Glenn Ranch, and turn left into the park at 0.6 miles. Parking is $3 on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays. (Note that this is a different entrance to the park than the Borrego Canyon trailhead to Red Rocks.)
- Agency: Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
- Distance: 4.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: “El Toro”
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; hiking poles
- Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Orange County
- More information: here; trip reports here and here
- Rating: 7
This is a short but challenging hike that, on clear days, offers some great views. Dreaded Hill is only truly dreaded if you attempt to hike this loop in a clockwise direction, so unless you are a glutton for punishment, follow this route. (The trail can also be accessed from Concourse Park, but whether you start there or at the Glenn Ranch parking lot, counter-clockwise is the way you want to go.)
As outlined here, this is a balloon-shaped loop hike. Even if you go counter-clockwise there are still a few variations on how you can do the loop. This one is arguably the most scenic, and the ascent, while rigorous, is the tamest.
You start by heading south along the Raptor Road trail. The first part of the hike, which passes under power lines as it parallels Glenn Ranch, may not seem promising, but when you get to the bottom of the hill and enter the canyon, the scenery gets much better. Take a right on the Live Oak Trail and immediately enter a thick forest of live oaks and sycamores.
After 0.4 miles, you merge onto the Serrano Canyon Trail, which soon arrives at a split. Take the right path, the Serrano Cow Trail (the left fork is your return route). At the next intersection, head left on Whiting Road and almost immediately right onto the Sleepy Hollow trail, another canyon filled with dense vegetation. You exit the forest and take a left on the Santiago Ranch trail, and another quick left onto the Cactus Hill trail. Here, you ascend a ridge, with Dreaded Hill looming in front of you, and great views of the Santa Ana Mountains on the left. After half a mile of steady climbing, rejoin Whiting Road and take a right and arrive at Four Corners, were you get a panoramic view (including an aerial of Red Rocks) and can sit for a well-earned break beneath a shade structure. There is a water fountain here as well.
Unfortunately, your climb is still not quite complete. Leave Four Corners on the Water Tank fire road, and take a sharp left onto Dreaded Hill Road. Here you climb steeply to the summit (1,614 feet) of Dreaded Hill. Your efforts are rewarded with views of the Santa Anas, the ocean, Catalina, and almost all of Orange County. At the top is a bench where you can enjoy the vista before making your steep descent.
After a mile of downhill, you rejoin the Serrano trail and retrace your steps. An added benefit of not having to climb up this steep stretch by doing the loop counter-clockwise is that you can enjoy the views of Orange County in front of you. If the network of trails sounds a little confusing, make sure you pick up a map at the parking lot (or download it from the park’s site). The signs are good and it should be pretty easy to find your way around.