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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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 3
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.

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Wildcat Small

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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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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.

My December 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

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.

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

Dodge
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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 5
Follow the trail, keeping left.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 6
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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 8
Avoid the side trails and keep going straight to the top.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 9
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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 10
To the east, you can see the twin peaks (Modjeska and then Santaigo) of Saddleback Mountain.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 11
And to the north, Mt Baldy and Angeles National Forest.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 12
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.

Car Wreck Trail Directions 13
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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 14
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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 16
The West Ridge Trail continues to descend.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 17
When you get to the t-junction with the Mathis Canyon Trail, make the right.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 18
You’ll see a sign for Mathis Canyon Trail too.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 19
Shortly after getting on Mathis Canyon, look for the small trail turnoff to the right.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 20
And again, there’s a nice trail for the Car Wreck Trail at the turnoff.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 21
The Car Wreck Trail is much narrower and rugged than the previous trails you were on. Head downhill.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 22
The trail is steep and rocky, but very doable. Just go slow and watch your footing.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 23
Toward the bottom of the climb the trail heads into some trees.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 24
And right after you go into the trees the car wreck is on your left.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 25
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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 26
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.

Car Wreck Trail Directions 27
The trail becomes mellow and flatter as you hike through the shade of oak trees.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 28
Keep hiking over the bridge as the trail levels off.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 29
When the Car Wreck Trail ends, make the left back onto Mathis Canyon Trail.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 30
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.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 31
Mathis Canyon consistently goes up and up.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 32
Towards the end of Mathis Canyon you’ll see the junction where you took the Car Wreck Trail.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 33
And shortly after that, the junction with the West Ridge Trail. Take the left to retrace your track from the beginning of the hike.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 34
One last climb up the West Ridge Trail to get back to the start.
Car Wreck Trail Directions 35
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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