Riley Wilderness Park
- Location: 30952 Oso Parkway, Coto De Caza in south Orange County. From I-5, take the Oso Parkway exit and head east for 5.6 miles. The park entrance is on the right. Parking is $3 per vehicle on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
- Agency: Riley Wilderness Park
- Distance: 3.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 350 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Best season: All year
- USGS topo map: Canada Gobernardora
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 5
Located in South Orange County next to the gated community of Coto De Caza (of “Real Housewives” fame), Riley Wilderness Park has several trails that are fun and easy to explore. This is one of the few trails that I visited before my seminal trip to the San Juan Loop (birth of my hiking obsession). Needless to say at the time I was pretty green to hiking, but I was able to find my way around pretty well. Returning later with many hikes under my belt, I still found this park to be enjoyable.
There are several possible routes, but the 3 mile trip here takes in the park’s best scenery. (Although there are a lot of different trails involved, it’s pretty easy to follow on the maps, which are available at the ranger station or here.) From the parking lot, pick up the Wagon Wheel trail, which crosses a footbridge and runs parallel to Oso Parkway. Take a sharp left on the Pheastant Run Trail, and take a sharp right on the Mule Deer Trail (left brings you back to the parking lot.)
Here, you ascend and begin to get wider views of the area, including Old Saddleback. The Mule Deer Trail climbs up to meet the Vista Ridge Trail. Head right toward Skink Point Vista, a small clearing where you can see the ocean on clear days, and get nice views of the Santa Anas. A plaque helps identify Modjeska, Santiago and the other summits.
Retrace your steps and look for the Oak Canyon Trail on your right. You head down into an oak woodland, where you can take a side trip to another good view point on the Horned Toad trail. Upon rejoining the Oak Canyon trail, you stay left at the next junction, pass by a small garden and arrive back at the parking lot.
Text and photography copyright 2012 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.