Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles Hikes with free parking Orange County - Santa Ana Mountains & Foothills Rating: 4-6 Season: All year

Shoestring Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

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Hills in Limestone Canyon Regional Park
View from the Loma Ridge trail

Shoestring Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

        • Location: Silverado, in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.  From the 55 Freeway, take the Chapman Ave. exit and head east for a total of 7.7 miles (Chapman becomes Santiago Canyon Road en route).    Shortly past Irvine Lake, look for the Augustine Staging Area, turn right and park as directed in the lot.  From I-5, take El Toro Road and head northeast for a total of 14.2 miles (El Toro becomes Santiago Canyon Road).  The Augustine Staging Area is on the left, 1.8 miles past Silverado Canyon Road.
        • Agency: Irvine Ranch Company; Orange County Parks & Recreation
        • Distance: 4.5 miles
        • Elevation gain: 750 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG
        • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
        • Best season:  All year (hot during the summer); accessible only during specific times (check Irvine Ranch Company link above for schedule)
        • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
        • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
        • More information: Limestone Canyon info here; Everytrail report here; trip report here
        • Rating: 6

Giant Limestone Canyon Regional Park (5,500 acres) dwarfs nearby Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Unlike its neighbor, however, public access here is limited. To explore the trails of Limestone Canyon, you must sign up either for a docent-led hike through the Irvine Ranch Company, or visit on a designated Wilderness Day, when you can hike on your own. All programs are free, however, registration is required.

While the schedule is subject to change, access to Limestone Canyon is typically allowed on the first Saturday of each month, from 7am until 1pm (no entry after 12 noon). This allows hikers to get a few hours in before the day gets hot, which works out well, because there is very little shade on the route.

After completing your registration, head out of the parking area and take a right on a paved road, indicated on some maps as the Blue Diamond Haul Road. Shortly before the road reaches Santiago Canyon Road, look for the Shoestring Trail, a single-track, heading off to the left.

Right off the bat, the Shoestring Trail makes a short but steep ascent. You get nice views of Irvine Lake and the Santa Anas beyond. After another short ascent, you head downhill to a wide meadow, where you head left on a fire road. The rolling terrain is similar to that of Chino Hills State Park; the landscape is dotted with a few oaks (although no shade).

A moderate ascent brings you to an intersection, where you head left on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail. The route continues its roller-coaster like sequence of ups and downs, topping out at a high point of about 1,350 feet (3 miles from the start). Here, you get a panoramic view of the Orange County suburbs on the right and the Santa Ana Mountains on the left; look for Modjeska and Santiago poking out from above the shorter peaks.

A steep descent brings you to an intersection, where you head left (you can continue straight if you want to extend your hike). A pleasant downhill stretch on the paved road brings you back to the parking area. On the way, enjoy some nice views of the Santa Anas, and note the clusters of prickly pear cacti bordering the road.

While some might consider it a drag that there’s no regular public access to Limestone Canyon, the little bit of red tape require to hike here helps make it a more secluded, quiet experience. One is likely to have less company here, even on a summer weekend, than at many of O.C.’s other regional parks.

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.


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