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.
Dripping Cave from the West Ridge Trail (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: 4.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Steepness, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo maps: “San Juan Capistrano”; “Laguna Beach”
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- More information: here; park map here.
- Rating: 7
This route to Dripping Cave (aka Robber’s Cave) is more scenic – and quite a bit more challenging – than the trip from Alicia Parkway. It utilizes the west entrance to the park, from High Drive in the hills above Laguna Beach.
From the street, head north into the park on the West Ridge Trail, enjoying great views of Old Saddleback and the surrounding Orange County foothills and neighborhoods. Just after half a mile, look for the steep Mathis Canyon trail branching off to the right. As you descend into the canyon, try not to let the fact that you will soon have to go back up this stretch ruin your views.
At the bottom of the hill, the Oak Grove trail branches off to the right (if you have extra time and energy, this short trip is worthwhile). Soon after, look for another trail on the right, signed for Dripping Cave. You enter a wooded area, pass through a meadow, and then switchback up a small ridge. Notice the interesting sandstone caves on the right as you climb.
When you reach the top of the ridge, you descend again, and then the trail heads back into a wooded area where you meet up with the other trail from the south. Head right and make the last few steps to the cave.
On the way back, if you are lucky, you will at least have some breeze as you climb the Mathis Canyon trail. Your work is not done when you get to the top of the hill – you still have half a mile and about three hundred feet of elevation gain on the West Ridge trail to retrace your steps to the parking lot – but as you make this final climb, you’ll have nice views of Catalina Island, the ocean, and Laguna Canyon to enjoy for your troubles.