Difficulty PG Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Hikes with free parking Orange County - Santa Ana Mountains & Foothills Rating: 7-8 Season: All year

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)


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Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail
Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail
Oak on Limestone Canyon Road
Oak on Limestone Canyon Road

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge 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: 10.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – June; accessible only during specific times (check Irvine Ranch Company link above for schedule)
  • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Limestone Canyon info here; Everytrail report here; description of upcoming hike on Friday, December 5th here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop is a longer version of the popular Shoestring Loop in Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park.  Like the Shoestring, this hike can be done on Wilderness Access Days in Limestone Canyon or as part of one of several docent-led hikes scheduled through the year (it will be next offered on Friday, 11/14 and Friday, 12/5).  Click the Irvine Ranch Company link for available dates.  The full version described here is more than 10 miles long, but if you are hiking independently on a Wilderness Access Day, you can shorten the loop to just under 8 miles.  On the guided hikes, the volunteer docents may give the group the option of shortening the hike, but be prepared for the full route–almost all of which is exposed.

0:20 - Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy's hikes)
0:20 – Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s hikes)

Begin by heading toward the Hicks Haul Road.  Turn right and follow it for a short distance to the Shoestring Trail, a single-track.  Cross a wooden footbridge and follow the Shoestring Trail for about 0.7 miles as it parallels Santiago Canyon Road, making its way up and down a few short but steep hills.

0:41 - Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail
0:41 – Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail

At just under a mile from the start, turn left and begin an ascent on a fire road.  After about a mile of steady climbing, you reach the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail, where you get some good views to the southwest.  You follow this trail southeast for about 1.4 miles, making several more small ascents and descents, before reaching a junction with the paved Hicks Haul Road.  (This would be your return route on the 4.5 mile Shoestring Loop.)

1:12 - Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge
1:12 – Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge

To continue toward the Sandtrap Trail, bear right on the Hicks Haul Road and go a short distance to the East Loma Ridge Road.  It climbs for about a mile, taking in some excellent views in all directions, finally reaching a junction with the Sandtrap Trail.  Turn left and make a brief ascent to the highest point on the hike, just over 1,600 feet in elevation.  Enjoy some more views, which may extend to the San Gabriels if visibility is good, before beginning a steep descent.

1:33 - Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail
1:33 – Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail

The Sandtrap Trail follows a curving ridge that drops almost 700 feet in 1.4 miles.  At 6.3 miles, you reach a T-junction in oak-shaded Limestone Canyon.  If you want to end the hike here, turn left and follow Limestone Canyon Road about 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.  To extend the hike, turn right and follow the fire road up a gradual incline for a mile, enjoying a little bit of shade from sparsely spaced oaks and sycamores, to the Raptor Trail.

2:11 - Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail
2:11 – Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail

The single-track Raptor Trail crosses a footbridge and begins a rather steep climb, gaining 250 feet in half a mile.  At Limestone Ridge, turn left and follow the trail up and down some bumps, noting the characteristic sandstone geology of Black Star Canyon in the distance.  A steep descent brings you back into the canyon (9.2 miles from the start) where you bear right on Limestone Canyon Road and follow it just over a mile back to the parking lot.

2:40 - View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge
2:40 – View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge

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.

3:10 - View of Black Star Canyon's geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon
3:10 – View of Black Star Canyon’s geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon
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