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: All year

Arroyo Trabuco Trail: Oso Parkway to Portola Monument


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Arroyo Trabuco Trail: Oso Parkway to Portola Monument

  • Location: Parking is at the shopping center on the southwest corner of Oso Parkway and Antonio Parkway in Mission Viejo. The intersection is located 2.7 miles east of the 5 Freeway and 1.2 miles west of the 241 toll road. Park where available in the shopping center, noting posted restrictions.
  • Agency: Orange County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round (hot during the summer)
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: Available for purchase at the shopping center
  • Restrooms: Available at the shopping center
  • Camping: Available at the northern end of O’Neill Regional Park
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent; hiking poles (for stream crossings)
  • More information: Description of the trail (from the north end at O’Neill Regional Park) here; AllTrails page (entire trail) here
  • Rating: 5

The lengthy Arroyo Trabuco Trail in Orange County stretches from O’Neill Regional Park more than eight miles south to Crown Valley Parkway, where it continues as the Ladera Ridge Trail. Its gentle grade makes it popular with mountain bikers (keep an eye out for them) but for hikers, the distance can be prohibitive for day hikers. Doing the entire trail as a point-to-point is an option for those who can set up the necessary shuttle. The 2.5-mile segment from Oso Parkway to the Portola Monument is an enjoyable day hike that can easily be done in a few hours, a good choice for solo hikers. Much of the route is shaded and there’s likely to be running water well into the summer, making it a good hike to keep in mind on hot days (although early starts are still best).

From the shopping center, follow Oso Parkway a short distance to a gated service road (signed for O.C. Parks). Follow the paved road down into the canyon, joining the Arroyo Trabuco Trail at 0.2 miles. This less-than-inspiring beginning is soon forgotten as you head north on the Arroyo Trabuco Trail, crossing under Oso Parkway and entering a thick woodland of oaks, sycamores, willows and a few wild palms. Other than the occasional overhead power line and faint traffic noise from Oso Parkway and Antonio Parkway, there are few signs of the outside world.

The trail heads generally north, passing a spur on the left that leads to a residential area and making a few creek crossings. One mile from the start, stay left as the Tijeras Creek Trail branches off. You reach another junction at 1.6 miles. The Arroyo Trabuco Trail continues straight, entering a wide flood plain with views of Old Saddleback. After briefly ducking back into the woods, the trail makes a short but steep ascent up the east wall of the canyon.

At 2.5 miles, you reach the monument that commemorates the explorer Gaspar de Portola, who passed through the area on an expedition in 1769. (As the story goes, one member of the party lost his blunderbuss – trabuco – somewhere in the canyon, thus giving the area its name). This is a good turnaround point for a day hike, especially if the weather is warm. The trail continues another 3+ miles to the O’Neill Park entrance, but it becomes less scenic, crossing under two major roads.

Note: this is a different trail from the South Arroyo Trabuco Trail, farther southwest.

Arroyo Trabuco Trail, Orange County, CA
Arroyo Trabuco trail north of Oso Parkway
Arroyo Trabuco Trail, Orange County, CA
Oak woodland on the Arroyo Trabuco Trail
Portola Expedition Monument, Arroyo Trabuco Trail, Orange County, CA
Portola Expedition Monument
Arroyo Trabuco Trail, Orange County, CA
Looking south from the monument site

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.

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