10 Ways to Escape into the Wild Lands in O.C.

#4: Tracking – Scout in the Back Country

If you haven’t been to Fremont Canyon, what are you waiting for?

The steep-walled Fremont Canyon has a rugged, wild feel few places in the county can match. Too steep to have been used as grazing land, it’s also more protected than parts of the Santa Ana Mountains that lie within Cleveland National Forest.

Tracking is the ideal way to closely observe the surroundings. Offered most months on Saturday mornings, this hike teaches how to use animal prints, scat, fur, and other signs to tell which creatures have been around and, in some cases, in which direction they headed. You’d be surprised how many of the seemingly gigantic prints are not mountain lions; they’re usually bobcats.

Check the activities listings carefully. Most of the hikes are three miles with a 400-foot elevation gain, but some cover six miles with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet, which provides a substantial look at the canyon, heading up one of its ridgelines. Children as young as 8 are allowed on both, and they tend to be among the most enthusiastic trackers. Tracking isn’t a particularly aerobic activity; plenty of time is spent stopping and examining the ground.
Though the hike is free, access to the canyon is through Irvine Regional Park, which charges $3 to $7 if you don’t have a county parks pass.

Bring a picnic to enjoy in Irvine Regional Park afterward, then peek at fauna at the Orange County Zoo ($2 entry).

Good to Know

➔ Three to six miles, 400 to 1,100 feet, respectively, elevation gain
➔ Free, but entry through Irvine Regional Park
is $3 to $7.
➔ Irvine Regional Park, 1 Irvine Park Road, Orange. Register here and in the “All Areas” menu, scroll to Fremont Canyon. Irvine Ranch Conservancy will send directions to the staging area after signup and provides extra water.