Turtle Rock & French Hill Loop (Irvine)

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Looking back down at Chaparral Park from near the top of Turtle Rock
Hummingbird in the Irvine Open Space

Text and photography copyright 2011 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.

Turtle Rock & French Hill Loop (Irvine)

  • Location: There are several possible starting points.  As described here, the route starts on the corner of Turtle Rock Drive and Concordia in Irvine.  From south Orange County, take the 405 Freeway north to the Jeffrey Road/University Drive exit.  Turn left and go one mile and turn left on Ridgeline Drive.  Go 1.4 miles and turn right on Turtle Rock Drive.   In a mile, turn right onto Concordia and park near the base of the trail leading up French Hill.  From the north, take the 405 Freeway south to Culver Drive.  Turn right and go 1.4 miles to Campus Drive.  Go 0.4 miles and turn left on Turtle Rock Drive.  Go 0.2 miles and turn left onto Concordia and park at the beginning of the trail.
  • Agency: City of Irvine
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation gain:  700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hour
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map:  Newport Beach
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4

This hike visits two of the highest points near UCI, French Hill and Turtle Rock. Both are popular with local residents because of the views they provide and the  workout required to reach the summits.  This loop, which uses city streets, single-track trails and a little bit of climbing, is one of several possible routes that visit the two summits.  Two caveats to keep in mind: after rain, the trails can be slippery, and on hot days, get off to an early start, as almost the entire route is exposed.

There are several possible starting points. An easily accessible one is on the corner of Concordia and Turtle Rock Drive. The hike begins with a steep climb up French Hill, gaining 200 feet in about 0.3 miles. At the top, you get a nice view of the Santa Ana Mountains and you can also see the other destination, Turtle Rock, to the left.

At the top, bear right, pass by a small summit marker, and begin heading downhill, toward a residential neighborhood. The trail swings around the back side of the houses and begins to curve south, making a moderate ascent to a ridge. Here, you get nice views of the Laguna Canyon area and the San Joaquin Hills.

At 1.2 miles, you begin a sharp descent toward Ridgeline Drive. Head right and follow a trail that’s been beaten on the side of the road. Soon you cross Hillsborough, where you can follow a proper sidewalk up to the intersection with Turtle Rock Drive.

Cross the street and continue following Ridgeline, looking for a paved walkway heading downhill (1.9 miles.) At the bottom of a hill, where the walkway makes a hairpin turn, continue straight on a dirt trail. Never getting too far from the residential area on the right, you climb to another ridge. Head right at a junction, where you’ll see Turtle Rock ahead of you, with its geological outcrops that resemble turtles.  You descend into a pleasant wooded area, reaching a paved walkway at about 2.6 miles.

Head left, and almost immediately take a hard right and begin climbing a staircase. At the top, head right and continue your ascent. A little bit of scrambling, though nothing too difficult, is required to reach the top of Turtle Rock (2.9 miles), where you enjoy a nice view of almost all of Orange County, and on clear days, beyond.

Continuing north, you descend steeply from Turtle Rock. Turn left at the next junction and head through a meadow, toward the intersection of San Rufino and Via Novella (3.4 miles.) Follow Via Novella to Amalfi Drive, head right and turn right again on Turtle Rock Drive. Heading slightly uphill, follow Turtle Rock 0.4 miles back to the starting point.

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