Car Wreck Trail, Laguna Beach, CA

Car Wreck Trail (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)

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  • Location:  Western end of Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park at Alta Laguna Park, Laguna Beach.  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: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: PG
  • Best season: October – June
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • Dogs: Allowed on the West Ridge Trail (first half mile of this hike) only; not allowed on the Car Wreck Trail
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: Available at the restrooms at Alta Laguna Park
  • Restrooms: Full service restrooms at Alta Laguna Park
  • Camping/backpacking: None
  • More information: Trip description (longer hikes incorporating the Car Wreck Trail) here and here; mountain biking video of the trail here
  • Rating: 6

Originally posted October 2011; updated February 2018

The remains of what is believed to be a 1946 Dodge coupe in a wooded hollow on the western slope of Wood Canyon have long been a popular attraction among Orange County hikers (and mountain bikers) with a taste for the macabre. How it ended up there is unknown, although many theories abound.

The wreck can be reached by a short but steep “reverse” hike from the West Ridge trail head. Begin by following the West Ridge Trail north for 0.5 mile, enjoying views of Old Saddleback in the distance, Laguna Canyon on your left and Wood Canyon on your right. Leave the West Ridge trail for the Mathis Canyon Trail and in 0.1 mile, bear right on the Car Wreck Trail.

The Car Wreck Trail starts out innocently enough, skirting the rim of the canyon for 0.2 mile before beginning its precipitous descent. In the next 0.4 mile, the trail drops about 500 feet over exposed, loose and often rocky terrain. The wreck itself comes into view just as the trail enters woodland, 1.1 miles from the start.

Beyond the wreck, the trail crosses a tributary of Wood Canyon and heads deeper into the woods. A bench 0.1 mile beyond the car wreck is an ideal spot to rest for the steep climb out of the canyon. A longer but less steep return option is to continue downhill (the Car Wreck Trail soon becomes the Oak Grove Trail) and return via the Mathis Trail.

Car Wreck Trail, Laguna Beach, CA
Start of the Car Wreck Trail
Car Wreck Trail, Laguna Beach, CA
Descending the Car Wreck Trail
Car Wreck Trail, Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
West Ridge Trail, Laguna Beach
Sunset from the West Ridge Trail

Text and photography copyright 2018 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.

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