Puma Ridge rises sharply along Irvine Regional Park’s southern border, providing panoramic views of the park itself and the Santa Ana Mountains. On clear days, the view extends all the way to the San Gabriels. The hike can easily be combined with the nearby Horseshoe Loop Trail or others in the park. The route described here is a good workout with some scenic variety that can easily be done in an hour or so. Though largely exposed, it’s short enough to be an option during the summer, given an early morning or late afternoon start.
From parking lot 7, cross the street and pick up the Horseshoe Loop Trail. Follow it uphill for 0.1 mile. Where the Horseshoe Loop Trail splits off to the left, continue uphill on the Puma Ridge Trail, making a short but steep climb. The trail soon levels out and heads southeast along a mesa. Ignore a dirt road on the right which leads to private property (0.3 mile from the start) and a few false trails that intersect the main route at 0.6 mile. Shortly after, you reach a Y-junction. The left fork is the Cactus Trail, which will be your return route should you decide to make the hike into a loop. The Puma Ridge Trail climbs briefly before beginning a series of switchbacks down to Peters Canyon Road. Several of the switchbacks have been cut, damaging the soil and vegetation. Resist the temptation to cut the switchbacks and follow the main route which is obvious, despite the damage.
At 1.1 miles, you reach Peters Canyon Road. Here, you have several options. You can retrace your steps or you can continue further into the park and make a longer circle via the Horseshoe Loop Trail. If you’re short on time, the most interesting choice is to return via the William Harding and Cactus Trails. Follow Peters Canyon Road downhill, past a junction with the Horseshoe Loop Trail and turn left on a service road just before you reach the park’s main road. Though paved, the road (signed as William Harding Nature Area on Google Maps) is closed to motorized traffic and bicycles and it is shaded by attractive live oaks.
After 0.2 mile on this road, just past a picnic table on the right, look for an easy-to-miss, unsigned trail branching off on the left. This is the Cactus Trail which was named for an obvious reason. The narrow path climbs the edge of a ravine, skirting around clusters of prickly pears before intersecting the Horseshoe Loop Trail. Here, you can take a short detour to a vista point. Past the Horseshoe Loop the Cactus Trail continues its steady climb (again switchbacks have been cut, so keep an eye out for the main trail). The Cactus Trail passes under a solitary oak and rejoins the Puma Ridge Trail 1.5 miles from the start. Retrace your steps northwest on the Puma Ridge Trail back to the parking area.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.