Car Wreck Trail (Laguna Beach)
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||3.8 miles (6.1 km)|
|Other Options||2.6 miles - 2 hours to Car Wreck and Back|
|Hike Time||2-3 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||950 feet (290m)|
|Highest Elevation||1,020 feet (311m)|
|Fees & Permits||None|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park|
Hidden in the hills high above Laguna Beach, far away from any road, lies the fabled “car wreck,” 1946 Dodge 5-passenger coupe. Visiting the car wreck became so popular that Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park officially made a trail to it in 2013. Today it’s a fun hike, offering not only a cool vintage car wreck but also expansive views from Catalina to Mt Baldy. This guide has a 3.8 mile loop that makes the climbing a little easier, or you can do a shorter hike to the car wreck and back.
Where is the Car Wreck Trail?
The hike to the Car Wreck Trail starts in Alta Laguna Park, about 1,000 feet above the ocean at Laguna Beach. From the parking area at Alta Laguna Park, you hike into Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and then to the car wreck.
Use this trailhead address:
Alta Laguna Park, 3299 Alta Laguna Blvd, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Gear for the Hike
The trails are rather steep, and there is virtually no shade, so it helps to bring the right gear. I recommend good hiking shoes or boots, at least 1L of water, sun protection, and trekking poles if you have them. If you don’t have proper hiking gear, you can certainly get away with fitness clothing, but don’t forget the water. Leave at sunrise before it gets too hot and crowded for the best experience.
I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: Women – Men
On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2020.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Car Wreck Trail Maps
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
Your best move to navigate this hike is to take a paper map, compass, and a GPS device. Load the GPX track from this hike onto your GPS to ensure that you’re on the trail. I’m a big fan of GPS watches; I just glance down at it to cross-check my position and use paper when I want a deeper dive. The GPS watch that I’m using now is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (price: REI or Amazon). It’s pricey but has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of other wellness, fitness, and smart-watch applications. For a more affordable option, check out the value-packed Garmin Instinct (price: REI or Amazon), a similar watch without some of the features. There are also great smartphone GPS apps like GaiaGPS. If you end up getting GaiaGPS premium, I’ve arranged for a 20-40% discount for my readers.
- The car wreck is a 1946 Dodge 5-passenger coup. In 1946 they sold for between $1,200-1,700, depending on how fancy you went. Innovations on this 1946 model include electric wipers and replaceable oil filters.
- How did the car get here, in the middle on nowhere? There’s no official answer, but it’s speculated by local historians that it ended up here in the 1960s. At the time, the dirt roads in the hills around Laguna Beach were popular spots for pop-up hippy concerts and hangouts. The likely scenario is that this Dodge was in the hills then and got washed down into the canyon during one of the bigger flash floods caused by heavy rains. That’s the theory, but no one really knows for sure.
- The hike makes a stop at the scenic “Top of the World,” a high point in the area that actually sits on top of a buried reservoir. So it’s more of a “Top of the Reservoir.” The 3 million gallon tank, built in 1996, is gravity fed and acts as a water supply to fight fires.
- The “Top of the World” hill lined up nicely with the takeoff path from the (now closed) Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, and planes have crashed here over the years. Some remains of aircraft used to be visible if you really looked, but I believe the park has removed them now.
Car Wreck Trail Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Keep an eye out for mountain bikes that share the trail with you.
If you want to do the shorter hike, just turn around and go back the way you came from here.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.