16 Trails in Orange County to Explore

From leisurely seaside trails to uphill climbs in the canyon, find your perfect match.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

During months of isolation, something as simple as walking around the neighborhood became the highlight of everyday routines. Spending time outdoors is a healthy habit—in more ways than one—that we hope to continue even as our lives return to their normal pace. To get you inspired, here are some of our favorite walks in O.C. From leisurely seaside trails to uphill climbs in the canyon, find your perfect match.

Vista Del Sol Park, San Clemente
The fresh ocean breeze marks the start of this journey as you navigate the meandering walkways of a 1.7-mile loop. The meticulously manicured natural-surface path is lined with seasonal wildflowers, aromatic native plants such as California buckwheat, and specially designed fencing to protect the natural habitat. While the trail is mostly flat, staircases and footbridges allow for a change in terrain and vantage points. Plenty of benches throughout the bluff trail offer a chance to unwind and take in views of the ocean, passing trains, and San Clemente Pier. Round out the visit with access to the beach and nearby parks and playgrounds. You can also consult one of the posted maps to extend your walk on one of the adjacent trails. Dogs are welcome.

Brightwater Trail
City: Huntington Beach
Distance: 3 miles, out and back
Surface: Natural
Details: Walk along the wetlands of Bolsa Chica Conservancy and watch for wildlife, including a wide variety of native and migratory birds. You’ll also find great views of Bolsa Chica State Beach.

Badlands Park Trail
City: Laguna Niguel
Distance: 2.3 miles, out and back
Surface: Natural
Details: This high-elevation route quickly rewards with astounding ocean views. Don’t miss the stairs down to admire the sandstone slopes and interesting rock formations.

Bluff Top Trail
City: Dana Point
Distance: 0.2 mile, out and back
Surface: Paved
Details: What this trail lacks in length, it makes up tenfold in stunning views of Dana Point Harbor, the headlands, and San Clemente. Beautiful bougainvillea blooms, ruins of a resort, and a look at Dana Point’s history as a trading port are included.

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Lago Santa Margarita,
Rancho Santa Margarita
The 1.1-mile paved path circles the pristine waters of this neighborhood lake, which has a maximum depth of 8 feet and is home to a variety of wildlife, including turtles. Take note of the 22 floating botanical islands, a unique design feature added in recent years to help maintain the water quality and aquatic habitat. There are plants such as canna lilies, water hyssop, and papyrus. Seating areas abound, along with shaded, grassy knolls that are perfect for picnicking. The lake is accented with a postcard view of Mount Modjeska and Mount Santiago, the twin peaks that form Saddleback. Activities include recreational fishing and operating remote-controlled boats. Have a meal at one of the lakefront restaurants such as The Blind Pig or Carmelita’s. There is dedicated parking as well as spots at the retail plaza and on the street.

Tri-City Park
City: Placentia
Distance: 0.7 mile, loop
Surface: Paved
Details: This neighborhood trail features an asphalt walking path along the perimeter of the lake with benches, picnic tables, charming footbridges, and expansive grassy areas.

Barbara’s Lake
City: Laguna Beach
Distance: 2.8 miles, loop
Surface: Natural
Details: Visit Orange County’s only natural lake with this trek through Laguna Canyon.

Shipley Nature Trail
City: Huntington Beach
Distance: 1.1 miles, loop
Surface: Natural
Details: This trail features views of Huntington Lake and a variety of wildlife. Dine at Kathy May’s Lakeview Cafe for classic comfort food and peaceful scenery.

Photograph by @1000hikechallenge

Dreaded Hill, Whiting Ranch
For those seeking a challenge, this trail has nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain in one mile. To your left as you ascend is an awesome view of Saddleback Valley. Upon arriving at the hilltop, enjoy stunning vistas of colorful white and red rock formations, purple mountains, and bursts of wildflowers in spring. At Four Corners, lengthen your hike by heading to Red Rock Canyon to marvel at iron-rich sandstone crags bracketed by cactus and yucca, O.C.’s little Sedona. This out-and-back will add approximately 4 miles to your trek. Or turn right and head down Serrano Road and through the peaceful Serrano Cow Trail, the latter shaded by groves of oak trees and laurel sumac beside dry creek beds. Watch for bobcats, deer, speedy roadrunners, and soaring hawks. Arrive back exhilarated at your starting point on Glenn Ranch Road, having conquered the no-longer-dreaded hill (8 miles or 4.5 miles).

Mentally Sensitive
City: Aliso Viejo
Surface: Multisurface
Details: Offering nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain in just 0.75 miles, this rocky, steep trail got its name when a vandal ripped off the “enviro” part of the original sign.

Big Bend
City: Laguna Beach
Surface: Natural
Details: The 1,100-foot elevation gain in just a mile leaves you breathless by the time you reach Bommer Ridge with its, yes, breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina.

Quail Hill Trail to Little Sycamore Canyon
City: Irvine
Distance: 9.5 miles
Surface: Natural
Details: Hike this rollercoaster of a trail from behind the community center to Serrano Ridge. Then swoop down Little Sycamore and back along Stagecoach and West Ridge.

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Oso Creek Trail,
Mission Viejo
A favorite among South County families, Oso Creek Trail in Mission Viejo is a well-maintained area full of lush greenery, big oaks and sycamores providing shade, public art, and surprises around every corner. The 5.5 miles of trails are located next to Oso Viejo park, and the namesake creek runs year-round. Points of interest include a butterfly garden, a plant maze, mosaics, murals, bridges, and a Peace Obelisk dedicated to the victims of 9/11. Much of the trail is paved, dogs are allowed on leash, there is ample parking, and the park features a playground and community center.

Great Park Trails
City: Irvine
Distance: 1.5 miles
Surface: Natural and paved
Details: These multiuse trails in the Upper Bee and Bosque area cross through 53 acres of natural landscape.

Citrus Ranch Park
City: Tustin
Distance: 1 mile
Surface: Natural
Details: Walk through lemon tree orchards and enjoy amenities such as picnic areas with barbecue grills, citrus-themed play areas, and a hilltop gazebo.

Anaheim Coves Trail
City: Anaheim
Distance: 3 miles, out and back
Surface: Paved
Details: This stroller-friendly walk along the Santa Ana River was recently expanded to include a playground and outdoor fitness space.

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