10 Ways to Escape into the Wild Lands in O.C.
#10: Landmark – Trek to the Mini-Grand Canyon
Irvine Ranch Public Access
Stephen Francis Photography/IRC
It’s worth the effort to make the long, elevated climb to The Sinks in Limestone Canyon.
It used to be easy to hike to The Sinks, a steep geological formation that’s fancifully been called the mini-Grand Canyon of Orange County. A three-mile hike round trip, under the shade of oaks, was all it took until flooding washed out the staging area and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy changed the starting point.
Now it’s an eight- to nine-mile hike (round trip) through Limestone Canyon if you begin from the Augustine Staging area, an old cattle camp. The hike is about seven miles coming from the other side, through Agua Chinon. Either way, it’s worth it. Both are quiet places with plenty of wildlife viewing; the Augustine hike provides restful oak woodland. From Augustine, the elevation gain is about 900 feet; in Agua Chinon, it’s a sustained 1,400-foot climb. The reward comes when you arrive at the viewing platform of The Sinks, a unique, eye-catching local landmark with steep cliffs and layers of red and white stone.
Docent-led hikes are offered irregularly, and often on weekdays. You can go without a docent on public access days, the first Saturday of alternating months. Start early to complete the hike before dark.
Travel a bit north from the Augustine Staging Area on Santiago Canyon Road to an overpass, then pull over to the side. This was originally built as a temporary bridge for trucks hauling gravel, but the hollows on the underside also became roosting spots for hundreds of bats. An agreement was worked out in 2005 to save the bridge as bat habitat. Being extremely careful to watch for traffic, walk under the bridge and look into the hollows to see the bats; bring a flashlight. This year, the conservancy will offer occasional night bat hikes in the area.
Good to Know
➔ Seven and nine miles; 1,400 and 900 feet, respectively, elevation gain
➔ Irvine Ranch Conservancy will bring extra water, but make sure you bring your own, as well.
➔ The Sinks via Limestone Canyon, Augustine Staging Area along Santiago Canyon Road. Register at letsgooutside.org/activities, and type Sinks in the “Keyword” menu. At the “All Areas” drop down menu, scroll to Limestone Canyon.