Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Cellular Service General information: Hikes with free parking Orange County - Santa Ana Mountains & Foothills Rating: 4-6 Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

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 neighborhood of north Irvine, at the corner of Orchard Hills and Big Sycamore. From south Orange County, take I-5 to Jeffrey Road. Turn right and follow Jeffrey 2.4 miles to Portola Parkway. Turn left and follow Portola 0.9 miles to Orchard Hills. Turn right and go 0.6 miles and pull into the parking area on your right, opposite Big Sycamore. From I-5 north, take the Culver Drive exit. Turn left and follow Culver 2.1 miles to Portola Parkway. Turn right and follow Portola 0.7 miles to Orchard Hills. Turn left and follow Orchard Hills 0.6 miles to the parking area on the right. Note that the Irvine Ranch Conservancy will soon be opening an alternate trailhead, also on Orchard Hills. Click the link below for up to date information. 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: 3.5 miles
        • Elevation gain: 550 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG
        • Suggested time: 2 hours
        • Best season: October – June; accessible only during specific times (check Irvine Ranch Company link above for schedule)
        • USGS topo map: Tustin
        • 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 here
        • Rating: 6
Start of the Orchard Hills hike, Irvine, CA
0:00 – Start of the hike (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

As of this writing, an upgraded trail head is being built farther west on Orchard Hills. When opened, that trailhead will shorten the hike by about 0.5 miles; the elevation gain will be comparable. Begin by following the paved road out of the gravel parking area for 0.4 miles and make a hard right on an 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, for a total of 0.5 miles 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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