Stair Steps Trail (Laguna Beach)


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Descending the Stair Steps Trail
Descending the Stair Steps Trail
Geology on the canyon wall as seen from the Stair Steps Trail
Geology on the canyon wall as seen from the Stair Steps Trail

Stair Steps Trail (Laguna Beach)

  • Location: Laguna Beach. As of this writing, parking is available in a vacant lot on the south side of the Canyon Animal Hospital, 20732 Laguna Canyon Road.  The hospital is 5.2 miles south of the 405 Freeway on the left side of the road (just past the main entrance to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.)  It is 3 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway.  Note: The city plans on developing an artist residence on the site of the lot, which may influence whether parking is available.  For more information about the project, click here.  The Stair Steps Trail can also be done in reverse (down then up) starting from the West Ridge Trail of Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.  This requires a longer hike starting from the northern entrances to the park (Hollyleaf or Canyon View Park) or from the south, via Alta Laguna Park.
  • Agency: Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park; City of Laguna Beach
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: PG
  • Best season: All year (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Laguna Beach
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
  • More information: Writeup on a mountain biking site here; video of mountain biking down the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start of the hike, Laguna Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Start of the hike, Laguna Canyon Road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Popular with mountain bikers – at least in the downhill direction – the Stair Steps Trail climbs the east side of Laguna Canyon, linking Highway 133 to the West Ridge Trail in Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

0:03 - Right turn on Phillips St (times are approximate)
0:03 – Right turn on Phillips St (times are approximate)

Assuming you park in the lot next to Canyon Animal Hospital, follow Laguna Canyon Road north for a short distance (there’s no sidewalk but a reasonably wide shoulder).  After less than 0.1 miles, turn right on an unsigned street, marked as a private way.  Google Maps lists it as Phillips St.  The paved road ascends steeply, passing by some private homes before reaching a gate by a water tank, about 0.4 miles from the start.

0:12 - Sandstone cave on the Stair Steps Trail
0:12 – Sandstone cave on the Stair Steps Trail

This is the “official” beginning of the Stair Steps Trail, which branches to the left.  The steep ascent continues.  You pass a large boulder with a cave cut inside; this can be a good place to stop and rest, enjoying panoramic views of the canyon below.  After this landmark, the grade lessens slightly.  At about 0.6 miles from the start, you reach a junction.  The Stair Steps Trail continues steeply uphill; an alternate trail branches off to the right, ascending at a more moderate grade.  Though still fairly steep, this trail can be a more enjoyable route to the top.  While this trail isn’t listed on park literature, it is smooth and easy to follow and has clearly been in regular use by mountain bikers and hikers.  Follow it for about a quarter mile to the West Ridge Trail.

0:17 - "Split" (Main trail heads steeply uphill to the left; alternative trail heads right)
0:17 – “Split” (Main trail heads steeply uphill to the left; alternative trail heads right)

Here you can enjoy an excellent view of both Laguna Canyon and Wood Canyon; you can also see most of inland Orange County up to the Saddleback.  Given time and energy, you can extend your trip on the West Ridge Trail in either direction, providing access to Aliso & Wood Canyon Wilderness Park’s interior.  However, if you want to call it a day, return either via the more moderately graded route you climbed or by the signed Stair Steps Trail.  Keep in mind that while it’s only about 0.1 miles back to the junction from on the Stair Steps Trail, the grade is very steep and rocky; exercise caution, especially since your legs may be tired from the rigorous climb before.

0:24 - Old Saddleback as seen from the West Ridge Trail, top of the Stair Steps Trail
0:24 – Old Saddleback as seen from the West Ridge Trail, top of the Stair Steps Trail

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.

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