Water Canyon (Chino Hills State Park)
- Location: 4721 Sapphire Road, Chino Hills. From the 71 expressway, take the Soquel Canyon Exit, head southwest (take a right if you’re coming from the north or left if from the south) for a mile and turn left on Elinvar. G0 0.2 miles and turn left onto Sapphire. Take a quick right onto the dirt road (Bane Canyon) leading into the park. Drive 2.6 miles on a good dirt road and park at Lower Aliso Campground (or at an equestrian staging area 0.2 miles farther if it’s full). Parking is $5 per vehicle.
- Agency: Chino Hills State Park
- Distance: 3.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 400 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: November – May (Friday through Monday)
- USGS topo map: Prado Dam
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
Rugged Water Canyon is one of Chino Hills State Park’s most popular destinations, and it’s not hard to understand why. As you make your way up into the canyon, climbing over fallen branches and navigating around trees and cacti, you’ll feel miles away from any kind of civilization. The sounds – which include woodpeckers, squirrels and more – are just as much of the attraction here as the sights.
From the parking area, head south on the Lower Aliso Canyon Trail, as you would for the Skully Ridge Loop. After a pleasant 0.6 miles of walking through a wide meadow, with the characteristic rolling hills of the park on both sides, you cross a footbridge and reach a junction. Head right on the Skully Ridge Trail, and almost immediately take another right on the Water Canyon trail.
You cross another footbridge and then head left on a rough single-track trail that clings to the hillside. The trail is a little vague in places, but overall not too difficult to follow. As you make your way up into the canyon, you may notice some interesting geology on the hills above to the right. Depending on what time of year you visit, you’ll probably either see nice fall or spring colors.
After a mile of traveling in the canyon, you arrive at a split, where a tributary comes in from the north. This quiet spot, about 1.7 miles from the parking area, makes a nice place to turn around. Adventurous hikers can venture down the left fork and continue up Water Canyon. Just be careful of the poison oak and nettles.
Note that Chino Hills State Park often closes following recent rains; check with the park before visiting. The Water Canyon trail, due to its remote location, is particularly susceptible to weather-related closures.
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.