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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Hike the Pumpkin Rock Trail||1.2||370||Easy||Yes|
|Hike Holy Jim Falls Trail||2.8||650||Easy||Yes|
|Whiting Ranch Hiking: Red Rock Canyon||4.2||420||Easy||No|
|Peters Canyon Hike||5.9||680||Moderate||Leashed|
|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||Yes|
|Saddleback Mountain Hike (Santiago Peak)||15.6||3920||Hard||Yes|
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 trails to Pumpkin Rock can be confusing — this guide gives you the main route up, complete with parking and bathrooms.
The Holy Jim Falls Trail hike is an easy hike to a small waterfall tucked into the heart of the Santa Ana Mountains. The Holy Jim Falls Trail is family friendly and well marked.
There’s a few Whiting Ranch hiking options, but Red Rock Canyon is the most popular for a good reason. The hike is mellow, easy, and ends in a smooth red rock canyon like you’d see in Arizona (but unique to Orange County).
This Peters Canyon hike takes you on a 6 mile tour of the 340-acre Peters Canyon Park. The hike offers panoramic views and wildlife spotting opportunities, right in the middle of Orange County.
This Laguna Coast Wilderness Park hike takes you through the best of the park. The trails wind through some of the last remaining undeveloped coastal canyons in Southern California, with great views, lush canyon paths, unique geology, and lots of wildlife.
Crystal Cove State Park offers pristine coastal nature, ocean views, and well marked trails. This Crystal Cove hike takes you on a best-of loop, with great views of the mountains, ocean, and on a clear day, Catalina. One of my favorite hikes. There’s also a shorter route, see the hike details for more info.
The Sitton Peak hike offers great 360 views of the Santa Ana Mountains, San Diego County, Orange County, and Catalina on a clear day. The hike to Sitton Peak 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.
Caspers Wilderness Park is home to the San Juan Hot Springs hike, which is long but very doable. The hike can be done as an out-and-back trip, or you can do a longer 14 mile loop that circles Caspers Wilderness Park and offers incredible views.
The Modjeska Peak hike is challenging – long, steep, and sometimes primitive. The hike climbs to the second highest point in Orange County, Modjeska Peak. The actual summit is undeveloped and much nicer than nearby Santiago Peak.
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. This hike takes the scenic Holy Jim Trail, which is also the shortest route to the summit.