Orchard Hills Loop (Irvine Ranch)

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Orchard Hills hike, Irvine, CA
Sunset from the Orchard Hills Trail
Orchard Hills Trail, Irvine, CA
Sandstone caves on the back of the Orchard Hills loop

Orchard Hills Loop (Irvine Ranch)

        • Location: Orchard Hills staging area, Irvine. From the north, take either the 5 or 405 Freeways to Culver Drive. Head northeast for a total of 2.8 miles (from the 5 Freeway) or 6.1 miles (from the 405 Freeway). The entrance to the trail head will be on the left side of the road, 0.8 mile past the intersection with Portola (there is no traffic light or sign, so keep an eye out; there will be a volunteer from the Irvine Ranch Conservancy at the gate to check you in). Alternately, from south Orange County, take the 5 Freeway north to Jeffrey Road. Turn right and head northeast for 2.4 miles to Portola Parkway. Go 0.9 mile and turn right onto Orchard Hills. The trail head will be on your right in 0.9 mile. You must be registered for all activities on Irvine Ranch lands. Registration is free and can be done online via the link below.
        • Agency: Irvine Ranch Conservancy
        • Distance: 3.1 miles
        • Elevation gain: 550 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG
        • Suggested time: 2 hours
        • Best season: Year round but hot during the summer; as offered by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (see the link above for schedule)
        • Dogs: Not allowed
        • Cell phone reception: Good; weak to fair in some spots
        • Restrooms: Full restrooms at the trail head
        • Water: Available in sinks at the trail head
        • Camping/backpacking: None
        • Recommended gear: sun hat; hiking poles
        • More information: Description of Orchard Hills from the Let’s Go Outside website here; O.C. Register article about the hike here; Map My Hike report (starting from the old trail head) here
        • Rating: 6
Orchard Hills trail, Irvine, CA
0:00 – Interpretive displays at the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This hike explores the foothills on the south slope of Loma Ridge, above Irvine. Being on the suburban side of the ridge, this hike doesn’t have quite the wilderness feel that many other hikes on the Limestone Canyon side provide, but it’s still a good workout with some panoramic city views, especially at dusk.

Orchard Hills trail, Irvine, CA
0:21 – Junction at the end of the lower loop (times are approximate)

The route has recently become one of the more popular ones offered by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, with hikes scheduled almost every week, including morning, evening and night. A variety of routes are offered as well, ranging up to ten miles but most commonly the three mile-plus double loop hike described below. Since you will be hiking with a docent-led group, navigation won’t be an issue, but it’s still good to know what to expect.

Orchard Hills trail, Irvine, CA
0:30 – Crossing the service road before the start of the upper loop

Begin by heading uphill for 0.1 mile to a junction; the start of the lower of the two loops. You’ll turn right and briefly descend, following the path of a service road. At 0.3 miles you’ll bear left onto unsigned single-track, passing groves of avocado and eucalyptus trees. At 0.7 miles, continue straight as another trail (your return route) branches back to the south. A moderate ascent along a ridge brings you to a paved road and a T-junction on the opposite side; the start of the larger upper loop.

Orange County panorama from the Orchard Hills hiking trail, Irvine, CA
1:00 – View from the top of the loop (southeast)

Turn right and head downhill toward some service buildings and turn left on a single-track trail that skirts the edge of the orchard. Some gentle meandering brings you the base of the steepest climb on the route, known as Orchard Hills Hill. You’ll gain 200 feet in about one sixth of a mile. If you have to stop to catch your breath, keep an eye out for sandstone caves on the opposite side of the canyon on your right.

At the top (1.8 miles from the start) your efforts are rewarded with a 180-degree view that may include Catalina Island, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the Hollywood Hills, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Santa Susanas and the San Gabriels. A few eucalyptus stumps make for seats to enjoy the panorama.

Orchard Hills Trail, Irvine, CA
1:20 – Descending toward the end of the upper loop

When ready, continue by making a hard left and heading south, still along the edge of the orchard. You drop back down to the service road, completing the larger loop. Retrace your steps back to the previous junction and continue straight, climbing up a ridge with nice views of north Irvine before descending back to the service road. Follow it, passing by the single-track turnoff, enjoying some more views of Irvine on your way back to the parking area.

Dusk view from the Orchard Hills Trail, Irvine, CA
1:40 – View from the ridge, lower loop

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.

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