- Location: 872 Poppy Avenue, Corona Del Mar. From the 73 Freeway, take the MacArthur exit and head south for 2.3 miles. Turn left on San Joaquin Hills Road, go 0.7 miles and turn right on Marguerite. Go 0.8 miles and turn left on 5th Ave. Drive to the end of 5th at Poppy Avenue and park where available, noting posted restrictions. From Pacific Coast Highway, simply turn north on Poppy and park where available near the trail head on the right side of the road.
- Agency: Irvine Ranch Conservancy; City of Newport Beach (Phone: 949-644-3309)
- Distance: 5 miles
- Elevation gain: 600 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: Year-round
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: Good near the trail head and along San Joaquin Hills road; weak in the canyon
- Water: None
- Restrooms: None
- Camping/backpacking: None (nearest available is at Crystal Cove State Park)
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here; trail map here; Map My Hike report here; Yelp page here;
- Rating: 5
Originally posted September 2011; updated February 2018
Located just a stone’s throw from numerous hillside mansions and a few blocks from the ocean, Newport Beach’s Buck Gully Reserve offers a chance for hikers to explore some of south Orange County’s last remaining coastal wetlands. The five-mile tour through the reserve offers a good workout as well. The land for the preserve has been set aside for public use since 2005; an upgraded trail system was installed in 2013.
From the signed trail head on Poppy Avenue, head downhill on a paved access road to the official trail head. The trail heads northeast along the side of the canyon, passing by a variety of vegetation including lemonade berry, toyon and a few prickly pear cacti. A little over a mile from the start, you reach a junction with the Bobcat Trail, your return route should you decide to make a loop. The Buck Gully Trail continues east through the wetlands before making a pronounced ascent from the canyon. You climb steadily toward San Joaquin Hills Road, passing under some cliff side homes before reaching the upper terminus of the trail, 2.6 miles from the start.
If you don’t mind hiking on city streets and want to make a loop, you can do so by heading west on San Joaquin Hills Road for 0.8 mile. You pass Canyon Watch Park, a nice place to relax and enjoy some panoramic coastal views and then you reach Harbor Watch Park. Here, pick up the Bobcat Trail which starts off as an access road that drops steeply back into the canyon. The first part of the descent, under power lines and just below some houses, is forgettable but after passing a junction with a service spur, the trail becomes a more scenic single track. Follow it south where it rejoins the Buck Gully Trail. Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trail head.
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. 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.