A Green State of Mind: A Guide to O.C. Regional & Wilderness Parks

Mile Square Park. Photograph by Andrew Kwak.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
The Laguna Canyon Foundation keeps things humming with docent-led events several times a week. There are fitness hikes, birding adventures, tot walks, yoga sessions, and more. The Nix Nature Center occasionally offers family activities such as Native American crafts.

Irvine Ranch Open Space
Most of this area in the county’s foothills is managed by the OC Parks system, and access is limited to docent-led activities. In addition to fitness and birding hikes, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy offers extreme cardio, meditation, and wildflower viewing, plus bat walks.

William R. Mason Regional Park
Interested in bird-watching but don’t know how to get started? Join the park’s volunteer-led birding walks, the first or second Thursday of most months.

Mile Square Regional Park
The infrequent events at this Fountain Valley park have their own quirky charm; check out kids’ fishing derbies or the annual monarch butterfly festival. Best of all, use the archery range for free when you bring your own equipment. The park also offers free archery lessons with equipment provided.

Irvine Regional Park
For people craving a wilderness ride without owning a horse trailer or even a horse, this is the place to go. Country Trails offers rides for $55 an hour, as well as riding lessons.

Santiago Oaks Regional Park
Horseback riders are a common sight here because they can easily trot over from nearby Orange Park Acres.

O’Neill Regional Park and Caspers Wilderness Park
Camping sites with horse corrals are available at both of these parks.

Caspers Wilderness Park
It’s a 10-mile hike to get to them, but the natural hot springs here are the only ones on public land in O.C.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park
How tall is a 42-year-old redwood? At this park in Brea, you’ll find a grove of the trees, planted in 1975.

Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
To get the full effect of stunning Red Rock Canyon, hike the Borrego Canyon Trail to the Red Rock Trail, about 4 miles round trip.

Ralph B. Clark Regional Park
The interpretive center here is Orange County’s small version of the La Brea Tar Pits museum in L.A. The exhibited fossils were collected from the park during the development of nearby Coyote Hills.

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Pecten Reef Loop is the best place to look for fossils, by searching the rocky outcrops for imprints of 15-million-year-old scallop shells. Beware: Collecting is strictly prohibited.

Laguna Niguel Regional Park
In the summer, walk along the lake at dusk to see bats flying across it.

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