Car Wreck Trail Laguna Beach

Car Wreck Trail (Laguna Beach)

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • How to Get to the Car Wreck Trail
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike
Total Distance3.8 miles (6.1 km)
Other Options 2.6 miles - 2 hours to Car Wreck and Back
Hike Time2-3 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)950 feet (290m)
Highest Elevation1,020 feet (311m)
Fees & PermitsNone
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Park Phone949-923-2200

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

Car Wreck Trail Directions 2
The parking lot at Alta Laguna is big, but is shared with people using the park’s tennis courts and other attractions. If you can’t find a spot here, there is street parking just outside of the park.
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If you need to use the bathrooms, there’s a bathroom with the best view in SoCal at the end of the parking lot. You can also fill up with water here.

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.

La Sportiva Spire

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: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

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.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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.

My September 2020 Top Gear Picks

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

Car Wreck Trail Directions 1
The trails are all well marked with these posts. With the exception of a few little wrinkles, you should be able to confidently navigate the big trail junctions.
Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

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.

Elevation Profile

Car Wreck Trail Elevation
For me the toughest part of this hike is doing the descent first, and then having to climb back out.

3d Map

Car Wreck Trail 3d Map
From the 3D view you can see how the hike starts up at Alta Laguna Park, heads down the ridgeline (with incredible views), and then into the canyon by the car wreck. You then loop back up Mathis Canyon Trail. Mathis Canyon is steep but not as steep as the Car Wreck Trail.

Hike Brief

Here’s the “before” picture of the wrecked car. Photo Allpar

Car Wreck Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Car Wreck Trail Start Map
From the parking lot, the actual start of the hike is in the corner here. For the first minute or two, we’ll be following this little connector trial around to the bigger junction.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 4
Head through the gate at the trailhead in the northwest corner of the parking lot.
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Follow the trail, keeping left.
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You’ll come to a low wall at a big trail junction. We’ll start by doing a side trip to Top of the World, which is the trail on the left. When we are finished there, we’ll come back to this junction and head down the other trail (West Ridge Trail) towards the car wreck.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 7
The trail winds up and around to Top of the World, which is where the antenna is located.
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Avoid the side trails and keep going straight to the top.
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When you get to the top, enjoy the views. To the west you’ll see the Pacific Ocean and on a clear day, Catalina Island.
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To the east, you can see the twin peaks (Modjeska and then Santaigo) of Saddleback Mountain.
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And to the north, Mt Baldy and Angeles National Forest.
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Once you’re done soaking in the views, head back down the hill to the junction where we were earlier and make the hard left onto West Ridge Trail.

Keep an eye out for mountain bikes that share the trail with you.

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Now you start the nice long downhill to the car wreck. Just remember that you’ll have to climb back up this to get out.
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The views from the West Ridge Trail are spectacular.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 15
Avoid any small side trails and stay straight on the main (wide) trail.
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The West Ridge Trail continues to descend.
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When you get to the t-junction with the Mathis Canyon Trail, make the right.
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You’ll see a sign for Mathis Canyon Trail too.
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Shortly after getting on Mathis Canyon, look for the small trail turnoff to the right.
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And again, there’s a nice trail for the Car Wreck Trail at the turnoff.
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The Car Wreck Trail is much narrower and rugged than the previous trails you were on. Head downhill.
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The trail is steep and rocky, but very doable. Just go slow and watch your footing.
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Toward the bottom of the climb the trail heads into some trees.
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And right after you go into the trees the car wreck is on your left.
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Today the car wreck is covered with graffiti and pretty much picked clean, but it’s still interesting to look a for a few minutes.
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Keep going past the car wreck and in a minute or so you’ll see the door and a trail sign. Make the sharp left here.

If you want to do the shorter hike, just turn around and go back the way you came from here.

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The trail becomes mellow and flatter as you hike through the shade of oak trees.
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Keep hiking over the bridge as the trail levels off.
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When the Car Wreck Trail ends, make the left back onto Mathis Canyon Trail.
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And now it’s payback time; time to hike back up and out. Mathis Canyon is steep but not rocky. Take it easy and take a break if you need to.
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Mathis Canyon consistently goes up and up.
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Towards the end of Mathis Canyon you’ll see the junction where you took the Car Wreck Trail.
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And shortly after that, the junction with the West Ridge Trail. Take the left to retrace your track from the beginning of the hike.
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One last climb up the West Ridge Trail to get back to the start.
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And then the trail levels off and you’ll be back at our starting intersection! You did it. From here you can go left back to the parking lot, or right back to Top of the World for another look.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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