Northwest Open Space (San Juan Capistrano)

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Northwest Open Space (San Juan Capistrano)

  • Location: 30291 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. From the south, take I-5 to the Junipero Serra exit (83). Turn left and go 0.3 mile to Camino Capistrano. Turn right and follow Camino Capistrano for 0.6 mile to the entrance to the Northwest Open Space, next to Hamilton Winery. Follow the dirt road a short distance to the parking area. Alternately from the north, take I-5 to Avery Parkway (exit 85). Turn right and make a quick left onto Camino Capistrano. Follow it 1.4 mile to the Northwest Open Space entrance, on the right.
  • Agency: City of San Juan Capistrano/San Juan Capistrano Open Space Foundation
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Suggested time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty rating: G
  • Best season: October – June (daylight hours only)
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: Chemical toilets at trail head
  • Camping: None
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 3

In the spring, when wild mustard flowers are in bloom and Trabuco Creek is flowing, the Northwest Open Space in San Juan Capistrano is one of south Orange County’s most enjoyable hikes. Even in warmer months, it’s a nice little spot to keep in mind if you’re in the area and jonesing for some nature.

From the large staging area, take the bridle path heading south, passing along the edge of a meadow dotted with orange trees and oaks. You soon come to a Y-junction. The official trail is the one heading straight, continuing south and then bending southwest. At 0.4 mile, you cross under the railroad trestle and reach Trabuco Creek. If there have been rains, the water cascades down the rocks into a pool below. It is possible to cross Trabuco Creek, but if the water level is high, this can be tricky, especially if you are with young kids or dogs. Furthermore, there’s not much to see beyond this point as the trail skirts the back of the Saddleback Valley Christian School campus. (An older trail, following closer to the stream bed, can still be seen, but is now closed and not legally accessible.) Therefore, this is a good turnaround point.

After returning to the Y-junction, you can explore further by heading up the other fork. Though not an official trail, it receives regular use and is easy to follow. It passes through the meadow, reaching the railroad tracks in a quarter mile.

Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Northwest Open Space, San Juan Capistrano, CANorthwest Open Space, San Juan Capistrano, CANorthwest Open Space, San Juan Capistrano, CANorthwest Open Space, San Juan Capistrano, CA

Text and photography copyright 2017 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.



  1. What’s the location or how can I find the location of the first picture in the photo gallery with the tree and fence on each side?

  2. I forget the exact location (it’s been almost 4 years since my visit) but it’s somewhere on the Trabuco Creek Trail, which heads south from the parking area (linked in the “location” text.) Keep in mind that the photos were taken in the spring following a wet winter, so things might look different now.

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