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Dripping Cave Trail 2

Dripping Cave Trail Hike

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Dripping Cave Trail
  • Where to Park for the Dripping Cave Trail
  • Hike Tips and Recommendations
Total Distance (?)5 miles (8.1 km)
Hike Time2 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Easy
Total Ascent (?)400 feet (122m)
Highest Elevation250 feet (76m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Park Phone949-923-2200

Tucked away in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, just minutes from Laguna Beach, the Dripping Cave Trail is one of the most fun and easiest hikes in Orange County. Dripping cave, used by native peoples and later bandits, is huge, open, and fun to explore. The park is rich with natural beauty and wildlife, and on the way to Dripping Cave, we’ll visit Cave Rock, another cool rock formation hidden away from the busier trails. This five-mile hike is mostly flat, easy to follow, and family-friendly.

Where is the Dripping Cave Trail?

The Dripping Cave Trail is in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. The park has over 30 miles of trails, and there are many ways to get to the caves, but the route I’ll show you here is the most popular and the easiest. Use the official trailhead at:
Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, 28373 Alicia Pkwy, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

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The parking lot is large, but it is a popular spot and is occasionally full.
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Pay for parking at the meter and then leave the ticket on your dashboard.
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Check the park website to confirm the park’s opening hours.

There are bathrooms at the trailhead and also about half-way to the Dripping Cave.

Gear For the Hike

This is an easy hike that can be done in fitness clothing or light hiking gear. In the summer it can be very hot. I bring 0.5L of water with me.

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

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.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated July 2021.

My July 2021 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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Dripping Cave Trail Maps

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park offers well-maintained and well-marked trails. The first part of the hike is on a paved road, but don’t let that put you off; it’s peaceful and scenic. The rest of the hike is on sandy dirt trails.

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Sometimes there are maps that you can take with you at the trailhead, by the parking area. There are also maps posted on signs along the trail.
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Trail junctions are marked with trail signs that include the difficulty and trail name.
Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

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). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

3D Map

Dripping Cave 3d Map
You’ll head down Aliso Canyon from the parking area and then make the right turn to hike up Wood Canyon. Aside from a little bump at Cave Rock, the hike is generally flat.

Hike Brief

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Keep your eyes open for wildlife like these mule deer. There are lots of rabbits, hawks, and deer that you can see consistently.

Dripping Cave Hike Directions

It’s easy to say thank you for this guide!

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Go straight through the welcome and visitor center area.
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At the end, make the left onto the paved Aliso Creek Trail. The road is closed to traffic but open to bikes.
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The Aliso Creek Trail is paved, but is still nice as it gently heads down Aliso Canyon. Stay on the paved trail.
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After about 0.75 miles you come to a junction. Cross the road and hop on the dirt trail heading left.
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Aliso Creek Trail becomes a proper trail, winding through trees and fields.
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The trail comes close to the paved road at points. Stay on the dirt trail going straight.
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When the trail ends at the paved road, keep going straight.
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You’ll cross the creek and quickly see an area to the right. Make the right turn.

There’s a toilet and picnic benches here.

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Go straight down the wide Wood Canyon Trail, avoiding the Meadows Trail on the left.
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The Wood Canyon Trail is wide and picturesque.
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When you get to the Cave Rock trail, make the left and take it.
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The trail is small and much quieter than the larger Wood Canyon Trail.
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There’s a point where the trail splits. Take the stairs down and then back up the other side.
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You’ll see this in front of you. Check out Cave Rock to the left, then come back and continue up the trail over the top of the rock.
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Cave Rock would provide temporary shelter for native peoples, but today is sadly covered by carved initials. The rocks are still fun to check out.
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Head back and up over the top of the rock.
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Stay straight avoiding any small side trails.
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Bear left when the trail heads over the top of the granite.
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And soon the trail continues on the dirt and is easy to follow.
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At the bottom of the hill, the Cave Rock Trail rejoins the Wood Canyon Trail. Make the left to continue to Dripping Cave.
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There’s another cave and interpretive display right before you make the left turn.
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Continue up the wide Wood Canyon Trail for about a quarter of a mile.
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As you hike on this stretch you can still see the damage from a fire here in 2018.
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Look for the wide turnoff to the left and hop on the Dripping Cave Trail.
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The trail is small and winds.
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Head down over the bridge.
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And you’ll see the Dripping Cave on your left.
Inside Of Dripping Cave
Photos don’t really convey how huge the Dripping Cave is. You can easily fit dozens of people in this space. And it’s not really a cave, but an overhang.
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The black marks on the top are not stains from fires, but rather it’s plant life that takes advantage of the water seeping in.

Once you’re done at the Dripping Cave, return the way you came. You can go straight instead of taking the Cave Rock Trail detour, and if you want, take the paved path back once you get to Aliso Creek.

This guide last updated on March 26, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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