Robinson Ranch/Bell View Trail Loop
- Location: Robinson Ranch, Orange County, in the foothills of the Santa Mountains. From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Alicia Parkway exit and go northeast (left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south) for 5.3 miles to the road’s end at Rancho Santa Margarita Parkway. Turn right and go 2.7 miles to Plano Trabuco. Turn left and go 0.3 miles to Robinson Ranch Road. Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Heritage Drive. Turn right, and park in the lot signed for the Bell Canyon Trail.
- Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation; Caspers Wilderness Park
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 700 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
- Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
- More information: Trail map here
- Rating: 7
If you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to hiking in Orange County’s foothills, you might want to give this loop a visit. Although it never gets too far away from the housing tracts of Robinson Ranch, it has a wide variety of scenery, including ocean views (on clear days), canyons and even two small seasonal ponds.
From the parking area for the Bell View Trail, head left on Heritage and walk back to Robinson Ranch Road. Turn right on Robinson Ranch and walk uphill for 0.7 miles (you might as well get the pavement out of the way).
Shortly past Headland Drive, look for the Bell View Trail on the left side of the road. Cross the grass and begin hiking on the Bell View Trail (for this route, head right; you can also take a sharp left on the trail and walk a mile to an overlook). You cross a small footbridge and begin walking steeply uphill. After a brief descent, the trail intersects with paved service road and then continues its climb. From the top of the hill (the highest point on the route at 1,700 feet above sea level), you get a nice view of almost all of Orange County before beginning a steep descent.
The trail drops sharply into a canyon behind the last row of houses. Hiking poles will come in handy during this stretch, which loses about 400 feet in less than half a mile. At 1.8 miles from the start, you come to a small pond. Although the pond may be dry by the summer, depending on how much rain there has been recently, this is still a nice place to stop; it’s approximately half way through the loop. You can rest at a picnic table under a big oak tree before continuing.
The trail switchbacks up the side of the canyon, crosses another fire road, and then begins descending the other side of the ridge. You enter a pleasant, shaded part of the canyon, where a seasonal stream trickles through. At 2.7 miles, you’ll come to another paved service road. Turn left and continue following the Bell View Trail on the other side of the road.
Soon, you arrive at another small pond, and four-way intersection. Turn right (both of the other roads lead to private property) and follow the trail as it goes over a causeway that separates the pond from another body of water below. There are a few breaks in the vegetation where you can get a closer view of the pond, with Santiago Peak rising imposingly in the background.
At the next split, the Bell View Trail continues straight, heading past Coto de Caza, eventually reaching Caspers Wilderness Park. To complete this loop, however, turn right and make a short but steep climb. The trail levels out, passing by some interesting geological palisades, before finally arriving 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.