- Location: Hicks staging area, Limestone Canyon. From either the 405 or 5 Freeways, take Jeffrey Road and head northeast for 4 miles (from the 5 Freeway) or 6.5 miles (from the 405 Freeway). Bear right at a junction where you will likely see a volunteer from the Irvine Ranch Conservancy checking hikers in. Continue another half mile to the staging area. The hike is free but registration is required (see below for more information).
- Agency: Irvine Ranch Conservancy/Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve
- Distance: 7.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
- Suggested time: Up to 4 hours (2.5 hours for fitness hikes)
- Best season: Year round as offered by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (see link); can be hot during the summer
- Dogs: Not allowed
- Cell phone reception: None for most of the route; weak to fair in some spots
- Water: None
- Restrooms: Chemical toilets at the Hicks and Augustine staging areas
- Camping: None
- Recommended gear: sun hat sunblock
- More information: AllTrails report here; video about the hike here
- Rating: 5
Pavement can be a deterrent – if not a deal breaker – for many hikers, but the Hicks Haul Road is still a worthwhile destination, especially for those who live in the O.C. foothills. The Irvine Ranch Conservancy offers regularly scheduled hikes along this route, which offers views of the Santa Ana Mountains and the Orange County coastal plain. The entire route is nearly 4 miles each way and is done at a brisk pace, providing a good workout with two major ascents. Options for shorter hikes (3 or 6 miles) are also available.
From the staging area under the 241 toll road overpass, the Hicks Haul Road makes a winding ascent, picking up about 450 feet in a mile and a half en route to the top of Loma Ridge. On the way up, keep an eye out for several examples of erosion in the sandstone walls, resulting in features that resemble the Sinks of Limestone Canyon. The top of the ridge is the turnaround point for the 3-mile hike. The longer hikes continue downhill toward Limestone Canyon on a hillside dotted with oaks and prickly pear cacti. Though you are still on pavement, this stretch of the hike feels more secluded than the portion on the suburban side of the ridge. (This downhill stretch will be familiar to hikers who have done the Shoestring Loop.)
At the bottom of the hill, some 350 feet below the ridge, you reach the Augustine Staging Area, turnaround point for the 6-mile hike. The longer route continues past the turnoff for the Shoestring Trail, crossing over Santiago Canyon Road on a bridge and meandering northwest for another mile before ending at a gate just before Irvine Lake. This last stretch is subjected to noise from the road, but the pleasant rolling landscape and a few pockets of shade provided by hardy live oaks make up for it.
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.