Talbert Nature Preserve
Located near the mouth of the Santa Ana River, the Talbert Nature Preserve is one of Orange County’s few dog-friendly open spaces that is suitable for year-round hiking. Though fences, utility poles and nearby houses are never out of sight, the preserve feels pleasantly remote, especially considering how close it is to urban development. The park’s convenient location makes it an understandably popular destination among Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach residents. In some circles it has reputation for homeless camps and BMX riders that distract from the nature experience, but having visited several times, from personal experience, I haven’t found anything to detract from my enjoyment of the park or to make me fear for my safety. The BMX ramps occupy a large clearing in the southern part of the park but can be easily avoided by staying north of Hamilton Avenue. There is some trash and graffiti, although overall it’s not too bad compared to many other parks that are right in the middle of civilization.
Talbert Nature Preserve offers a quick getaway and for those who want a longer trip, following the perimeter of the park on various trails and bike paths results in a loop of more than five miles, described as follows. From the upper parking area, pass by the information board and follow a trail into the park. Many different trails, official and unofficial, cross the park, but the main ones are usually pretty easy to find and follow. Take the first right and begin your descent into Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park, a preserved wetland. At the bottom of the hill, one quarter mile from the start, turn right and follow the path around the edge of the wetlands to a four-way junction. Go straight (the right spur leads back to Placentia Avenue and the left spur will get you to the same place as the center route, just not as scenically). You follow a boardwalk through the wetlands, returning to the dirt road 3/4 of a mile from the start. Merge and continue a short distance to the entrance of the Talbert Nature Preserve.
The preserve is unofficially divided into a northern and southern half. You pass by a picnic area and follow the trail south for 0.9 miles, getting some more views of the wetlands created by runoff from the Santa Ana River. Vegetation here includes sycamores, bay laurels and coastal sage scrub. After briefly merging with the bike path and crossing under Hamilton Avenue, you enter the south half of the preserve (2 miles). Bear left, leaving the bike path and following the wide dirt trail into the wetlands. Though it’s off limits, you can get a glimpse of a pond between the trees. At a junction, head either way to complete a 1.4-mile loop around the south half of the preserve.
Once you’ve finished the loop, retrace your steps under the Hamilton Avenue Bridge and back to the north half of the preserve. After leaving the bike path, you have the option of returning via the same trail or using a parallel route that runs alongside the Santa Ana River Trail and bike path. The latter option isn’t as scenic, but those who want variety can follow it north to a short asphalt spur, leading back to the picnic area. From here, return to the parking lot either by continuing along the road or taking a staircase mounted on the side of the bluff.
Text and photography copyright 2015 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.