Mentally Sensitive 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: 1.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Difficulty: PG
- Best season: All year (Hot during the summer)
- USGS topo map: “San Juan Capistrano”
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- More information: Description here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 6
It may sound like a touchy-feely new age experience but the Mentally Sensitive Trail–which climbs almost 800 feet in less than 3/4 of a mile–is more like a boot camp. Dedicated in 2011, the trail’s name supposedly comes from a sign that originally read “Environmentally Sensitive Area” – bumped by a mountain biker so part of it folded back, leaving “Mentally Sensitive.”
Like the nearby Meadows Trail, the Mentally Sensitive Trail connects the paved service road running through the bottom of the canyon with the Aswut Trail above. The quickest way to hike the Mentally Sensitive Trail, as described here, is to do it as a reverse hike starting at Moulton Meadows Park.
From the corner of Del Mar and Balboa, follow the Aswut Trail north. In 0.1 miles, take a hairpin turn to the right on a wide dirt path and in another 0.1 miles, you reach the top of the Mentally Sensitive Trail. The trail soon begins its steep descent, dropping precipitously toward the canyon. The views of Old Saddleback can be great but make sure you watch your footing as you negotiate the trail.
About halfway down, as the trail reaches a wooden fence, there’s a particularly treacherous spot where extra caution should be used. Following this, the trail drops to a ridge and levels out for a short stretch before making one last steep descent to the service road.
This is the turnaround point for the Mentally Sensitive Trail. You can tackle the calf-burning ascent back to the Aswut Trail for a round trip of 1.8 miles, or you can extend the hike by heading north on the road. Options include looping back via the Meadows Trail or, with a car shuttle on Alicia Parkway, continuing to the park’s main entrance as a point-to-point hike.
Text and photography copyright 2014 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.