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.
My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move. It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
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Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33 (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles. I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
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Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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 Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated December 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
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.
- 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.