Orange County Hiking
|In This Guide|
There is an Orange County hiking trail for everyone, from tough mountain hikes, to hidden waterfalls, to pristine coastal hikes with ocean views. Cleveland National Forest in the east is a vast treasure trove of primitive hikes away from the malls and developments in Orange County. Because the area is somewhat affluent, the Orange County Parks Department is one of the best in the USA. And if you just need an easy hike to reconnect with nature, a beach hike is easy enough and requires little preparation.
Here are my favorites, along with a full list of Orange County hiking below.
Best Beginner’s Hike
If you’re not yet ready for hardcore Orange County hiking, try the gradual hike to Red Rock Canyon at Whiting Ranch park. It’s a gradual climb to a hidden Red Rock sandstone formation. It’s a nice family friendly hike as well.
Red Rock Canyon Hike Full Directions
Best Ocean View Hike
Crystal Cove State Park is an oasis of trails in between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. You can hike from the ocean all the way up to Coastal Peak. This Crystal Cove hike takes you on the best of trails, with the most gentle route to the top. On clear days you’ll be able to see from Mt. Baldy to Catalina.
Crystal Cove Hike Directions
Best Easy Mountain Peak Hike
Sitton Peak feels like it should be higher. The hike isn’t a total breeze, but is doable for anyone with a basic level of fitness. And the peak offers 360 degree views that feel like one of the San Jacinto summits.
Sitton Peak Hike Directions
Best Orange County Mountain Hike
Saddleback Mountain is the peak that dominates Orange County. Saddleback Mountain is actually two peaks, the lower is Modjeska Peak, the higher (with the towers) is Santiago Peak. Both hikes are very challenging but have a big payoff in incredible views. I’d recommend doing Santiago Peak, the hike is not so technical and you focus on getting to the summit. The summit of Modeska Peak is much cooler, so if you’re an experienced hiker, you can give that a try.
Hike Directions Saddleback Mountain
Toughest Mountain Hike
Although it’s the lower hump in Saddleback Mountain (and the 2nd highest point in the OC), the Modjeska Peak hike can kick your butt. Unlike the well groomed trails to Santiago Peak, the trails to Modjeska are steep and primitive. If you are an experienced hiker and want a challenge, give Modjeska Peak a shot.
Modjeska Peak Hike Directions
List of Orange County Hiking
|Hike the Pumpkin Rock Trail||1.2||370||Easy||Off Leash Okay|
|Quail Hill Trail||2||164||Easy||Leashed|
|Hike Holy Jim Falls Trail||2.8||650||Easy||Off Leash Okay|
|Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve||3||320||Easy||Leashed|
|Whiting Ranch Hiking: Red Rock Canyon||4.2||420||Easy||No|
|Peters Canyon Hike||5.9||680||Moderate||Leashed|
|Hike Black Star Canyon Trail||7.1||1100||Moderate||Off Leash Okay|
|Hike the Bedford Peak Trail (Orange County)||7.2||2150||Hard||Off Leash Okay|
|Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Hike||7.5||1210||Hard||No|
|Crystal Cove Hike||9||990||Moderate||No|
|Sitton Peak Hike||9.2||2200||Moderate||Leashed|
|Caspers Wilderness Park – Hike San Juan Hot Springs||10.5||2030||Moderate||No|
|Modjeska Peak Hike||15||5160||Hard||Off Leash Okay|
|Hiking on Catalina Island to Parsons Landing Campsite||15.2||3613||Easy||No|
|Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak)||15.6||3920||Hard||Off Leash Okay|
|Hike Indian Truck Trail to Santiago Peak||21||6860||Hard||Off Leash Okay|
All Orange County Hiking
Quail Hill Trail is a 2-mile loop hike that offers expansive views goes through the Irvine Open Space Preserve, designated a Natural Landmark by both the State of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The family and beginner-friendly hike goes along the easy to follow Quail Hill Loop Trail, offers parking and bathrooms, interpretive displays, and wildlife viewing opportunities, all within minutes of suburban Irvine, CA.
This “best of” Crystal Cove hike takes you on a loop trail offering pristine coastal nature, ocean views, and well marked trails. You’ll take in the endangered native coastal sage scrub plant wilderness, which is how the area looked before it was developed, and then hike to heights where you’ll be able to see from the San Gabriel Mountains to Catalina. If this hike is too long for you, I offer a shorter version in the directions too. This hike is one of my favorites.
Nestled in the community of Newport Beach, the Bluff and Bay Trail Loop in Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve offers great views of Upper Newport Bay and world-class wildlife spotting. The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is home to some 200 bird species, including some endangered species, making it a top bird watching destination in the USA.
Hiking on Catalina Island offers some beautiful options, but I think the hike to and overnight at Parsons Landing campsite is the best. Parsons Landing campsite sits on a secluded beach, with the sounds of the waves as your camping soundtrack. There are only 8 campsites, the hike is not too tough, and the scenery is breathtaking. Do it. Do it. Do it.
The Indian Truck Trail offers an alternate way to hike Santiago Peak (Saddleback Mountain). It’s not a rustic single-track trail like the Santiago Peak hike from Lower Holy Jim Trail, but instead includes some wider Forest Service dirt roads (Indian Truck Trail is also known as forest road 5S01). You might see a few 4x4s or mountain bikes, but otherwise it’s very mellow. It’s a beautiful hike, so don’t let this stop you.
Hiking the Black Star Canyon trail is a local favorite for a reason. The trail follows Black Star Creek to Black Star Canyon Falls, and there’s a haunted history to ponder as you hike through this beautiful part of Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park. Hiking on the Black Star Canyon Trail can be a challenge, especially when it’s wet. This guide has everything you need to navigate the hike safely and get to the falls.
The Bedford Peak hike in Orange County is a tough one with big payoffs. Bedford Peak trail climbs about 2000 feet in 3 miles, and your reward is great views of Mt Baldy, Saddleback Mountain, and Catalina. It’s a fun, under-rated hike that recommend.
The hike to Pumpkin Rock is one of those things you just have to do at least once. It’s obviously a great Halloween hike, and there are lots of photo opportunities. The hike is easy but the trails to Pumpkin Rock can be confusing — this guide gives you the main route up, complete with parking and bathrooms.
This is a a fun hike to San Juan Hot Springs, which is located in Caspers Wilderness Park, a lightly-visited, 8,000 acre, protected wilderness preserve in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. The San Juan Hot Springs were first opened in the late 1800s as a full blown resort, complete with cabins, soaking tubs, and pools. Over the years they’ve closed and opened again, with the latest version being closed down in 1992. Today you can hike to San Juan Hot Springs, but whether you can go in them is up for debate (see the article for more). This hike to the hot springs can be done as an 10.5 mile out-and-back trip, or you can do a longer 14 mile loop that circles through the ridges in Caspers Wilderness Park, offering incredible views.
The Sitton Peak hike offers great 360 views of the Santa Ana Mountains, San Diego County, Orange County, and Catalina on a clear day. Sitton Peak (3,273ft) is one of the high peaks in the southern part of Cleveland National Forest, and this hike is much easier than the hike to Saddleback Mountain, with views that are comparable. The trail has some flat sections to catch your breath, making it a great hike for beginners.
The Holy Jim Falls Trail hike is an easy hike to a small waterfall tucked into the heart of the Santa Ana Mountains. The hike follows Holy Jim Creek, which is one of the pristine mountain tributaries of Trabuco Creek, and eventually flows out to the ocean at Dana Point. Today the Holy Jim Falls Trail is family friendly, relatively easy, and well marked hike.
The Modjeska Peak hike is challenging – long, steep, and sometimes primitive. The hike climbs to the second highest point in Orange County, Modjeska Peak. Modjeska Peak, at 5,499 feet, is the lower peak in Saddleback Mountain. The highest peak (and other peak in Saddleback Mountain) is Santiago Peak. The actual summit is undeveloped and much nicer than nearby Santiago Peak. This is a challenging hike. Don’t try this hike without a good level of fitness.
Hiking Saddleback Mountain takes you to the highest point in Orange County, Santiago Peak. It’s also the highest point in the Santa Ana mountains at 5,689 feet. This hike takes the scenic Holy Jim Trail, which is also the shortest route to the summit. This is a long and challenging hike. Don’t try this hike without a good level of fitness.
This hike through Peters Canyon Regional Park is one of the most popular hikes in Orange County for good reason. The hike has everything: well-mantained trails, climbs and flats, panoramic views, and wildlife spotting opportunities. This Peters Canyon hike takes you on a very-doable 2:30 hour loop of the park. Lots of side trails offer opportunities to make it shorter if you’d like.
There’s a few Whiting Ranch hiking options, but Red Rock Canyon is the most popular for a good reason. The gently climbing trail makes it way up a oak woodland canyon, eventually ending in a smooth red rock canyon like you’d see in Arizona (but unique to Orange County). Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is rich with wildlife. I often see squirrels and lizards, and less often deer. The hike is mellow, easy, and is great for families.
A Laguna Coast Wilderness Park hike transports you into how coastal California had existed thousands of years ago. You’ll hike through some of the last untouched coastal canyons in California, enjoying pristine coastal sage scrub, ridges with panoramic views, and abundant wildlife, including over 40 endangered species. This hike through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park takes you over the best trails, and you’ll get a taste of all the types of scenery that the park has to offer.