Dripping Cave via Meadows Trail (Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park)
- Location: Laguna Beach. From the north, take Pacific Coast Highway south of downtown Laguna Beach and turn left on Bluebird Canyon. Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Summit Ave. Go 0.7 miles and make a slight right onto La Mirada. Go 0.1 miles and turn left on Del Mar. Park on the corner of Del Mar and Balboa, just north of Moulton Meadows Park. Alternately, from points south, take P.C.H. to Nyes Place. Turn right and drive 1.4 miles (Nyes becomes Balboa along the way) and park on the corner of Balboa and Del Mar.
- Agency: Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
- Distance: 6.2 miles
- Elevation gain: 950 feet
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Difficulty: PG-13 (Steepness, distance, elevation gain)
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo map: “San Juan Capistrano”
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
There are several ways to reach Dripping Cave (also known as Robber’s Cave), a landmark in Orange County’s Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. The cave is notable not only for its interesting geology, but also for its history as a hideout for gangsters. The most popular route is the 5-mile round trip from the park’s main entrance on Alicia Parkway. The cave can also be reached by a more challenging (and scenic) route using the West Ridge Trail. Yet another option, described here, is to approach the cave from the southeast, via the Aswut and Meadows Trails. Keep in mind that the 1.6-mile Meadows Trail isn’t entirely accurately named. Sure, there’s a meadow, but it’s at the bottom of a steep, exposed hill. The good news is that on the way down, you get great views of the Santa Ana Mountains and almost all of inland Orange County. On clear days, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the San Gabriels.
From Moulton Meadows Park, follow the Aswut Trail as it heads north along the ridge. In half a mile, you will arrive at an information board with benches. Here, head right on the Meadows Trail, which wastes no time in beginning a steep descent. The trail switchbacks (tempting as it maybe, don’t cut any of them) down into the canyon, dropping over 700 feet in a mile. In addition to the great views in front of you, keep an eye out for some interesting sandstone geology on the canyon wall.
Finally the trail levels out, and you enter a wide, scenic meadow. Just before the trail reaches the service road, take a left and head over small wooden bridge. For its last half mile, the Meadows Trail parallels the paved road, entering a grove of trees which represents some of the only shade on this whole hike.
Soon, you join the wider Wood Canyon Trail. Turn left and head north into the canyon. You’ll pass by Cave Rock, and after three quarters of a mile, you reach the turn off to Dripping Cave. Head left and arrive in a quarter mile. In addition to being visually interesting, the cave, and the woods around it, make a nice place to take a break before climbing out of the canyon. The aforementioned bench at the top of the hill, with its ocean views, is another nice rest spot on the return.
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.