- Location: Irvine Regional Park. From the 55 freeway, take the Chapman Avenue exit and head east for 4.2 miles until you get to Jamboree Road. Take a left on Jamboree and a right into the park. From the north, take the Katella Avenue exit from the 55 freeway, head east and drive 4.6 miles to Jamboree and take a left (Katella becomes Villa Park and then Santiago Canyon Road on the way). Parking is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays. For access to this hike, follow the signs to Lot #15. You will be checked in at the gate and then continue another 1.4 miles to the staging area.
- Agency: Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks/Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve
- Distance: 13.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
- Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 6-7.5 hours, depending on group pace
- Best season: October – April (as offered by Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks)
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: Weak to fair in some areas; none or most of the route
- Water: None
- Restrooms: Chemical toilet at the trail head; full restrooms in Irvine Regional Park
- Camping/backpacking: None
- Recommended gear: sun screen sun hat hiking poles
- More information: Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 7
Though the rock formations that give Mini Moab its name are small compared to their Utah counterparts, there is nothing “mini” about this hike. This trip is the second most challenging hike regularly offered by Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks (after the Fremont Loop, which shares much of the same route) and features a long ascent (plus about 400 feet of elevation gain on the return) with no shade. The good news is that in addition to the unusual sandstone formations, the views – which include almost all of Orange County and the San Gabriels and if visibility is good Catalina Island and downtown L.A. – can be outstanding. On the way, you will see much of north O.C.’s rugged interior and although much of the hike parallels the 241 toll road and 91 freeway, there are times when it may be hard to believe you are hiking in the sixth most populated county in the United States. The hike is usually offered once a month but can be cancelled due to inclement weather, fire hazards or excessive heat.
The first 2.5 miles of the hike share the route with the Fremont – Weir trip that is also offered regularly by Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. After climbing 2.4 miles to Upper Blind Canyon Road and gaining about 900 feet, you continue uphill another 0.4 mile and 150 feet to the Fremont Weather Station (another Irvine Ranch destination). The small facility is one of Orange County’s biggest weather information providers and has been known to clock winds at over 100 miles per hour. The group will often take a break here and enjoy the view.
The trail then drops about 300 feet in 0.8 miles – elevation which must be made up on the return, usually in afternoon heat. You traverse a meadow, taking in your first view of the Mini Moab rocks in the distance. The trail begins a steady climb, passing by a slope dotted with rare Tecate cypress trees, before reaching a junction, 5.8 miles from the start. Here, the Fremont Loop branches off to the right. The Mini Moab hikes usually stop for a break here at a series of sandstone outcrops known as Lizard Rock. From this vantage point you get an outstanding view down into Fremont Canyon – and you will also see the Fremont Loop’s intimidating ascent across the way.
Continuing north, you soon leave Irvine Ranch property and enter the jurisdiction the California Department of Fish & Game (Coal Canyon Ecological Reserve). You are now on public land that can be accessed from the north, an option to keep in mind if you are not able to get a spot on one of the Irvine Ranch’s hikes. Another mile and 350 feet later, you reach the destination: a saddle where your route meets the route from the north and another trail continues on to Sierra Peak.
Though climbing on the rocks is forbidden, you get an excellent view of this vantage point. The views of Mt. Baldy, Cucamonga Peak and the rest of the San Gabriels are also impressive. Many more Tecate cypresses dot the northern slopes, which extend all the way down to the 91 Freeway. The group will take an extended break here to snack and enjoy the views before making the long trip back.
Text and photography copyright 2018 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.