Sure, many of the best southern California summer excursions begin and end at the beach. Orange County has some of the best beach destinations, of course, though the region is also adorned with a network of beautiful, simple to challenging and many less-traveled hiking trails. While OC beaches have their own hiking trails, you can also take to the local canyons, parks and foothills for some exhilarating exploration and exercise. Every experience level and desired exertion may be catered to at any number of trail systems. We’ve put together the best.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
18751 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Southern California is where the harsh desert meets the massive and glorious ocean. But, Orange County is also home to some rare and stunning wooded coastal canyon land. The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is where you can see, explore and experience it. Forty miles of trails surround and traverse this raw, but inviting natural habitat. Easy, moderate and strenuous hikes await backpackers of all interest and intensity levels and it is close to the coast that you can see the ocean from many of the stunning hilltop trails. But, don’t let the name fool you. The trails are not beach trails and expect that it will be very hot during the summer. So, pack plenty of water, good shoes and your camera.
Salt Creek Beach Park
33333 S. Pacific Coast Highway
Dana Point, CA 92629
If you enjoy hiking, but may be venturing out with novices, young children or chronic urbanites, Salt Creek Beach Park is the perfect venue for breaking in a new backpacker. Located safely and conveniently in Dana Point, Salt Creek offers short and intermediate trail walks, all within sight of civilization. Also within the glorious embrace of Orange County’s finest beaches, your companions may not even notice you’re dragging them on a multi-mile walk. For exercise that is rivaled only by the view, get your hiking done close to home, and close to emergency services (see Frozen Yogurt).
San Onofre State Beach
1-5 and Basilone Road S.
San Clemente, CA 92672
A number of California’s best surf spots are protected by being difficult to reach. A tough walk translates into a good hike, and the San Onofre trails, like its beach, are a well-guarded secret. Meander up and down the bluffs and the beach or embark upon the entire 5.6-mile Bluffs Beach Trail loop where you’ll see wildlife and marvel at the area’s best surfers, mild summer climate and more. Picnicking, bathrooms, showers and parking make matters convenient as well.
Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
Portola Parkway and Market Place
Trabuco Canyon, CA 92679
Whiting Ranch offers true wilderness and a truly well spent day of hiking where you’ll likely see live deer. Miles of trails beckon, as varied as the numerous trailheads from which you may embark. Grab a map from any park entrance and chart your partial- or all-day journey. The $3 parking fee is minimal, goes to an excellent cause and will be the best $3 you’ve spent all summer.
Santiago Oaks Regional Park
2145 N. Windes Drive
Orange, CA 92869
At Santiago Oaks, expect to find peace, seclusion and legitimate hiking. Visit the professionally staffed nature center to get acclimated, then head off into the lowlands, chaparral or a genuine mature southern California woods. The creek will be dry during the summer, making it easy to traverse, and lends an added level of charm to the natural landscape. Picnic areas and a playground are interspersed within the park, perfect for attracting the family and maintaining their enthusiasm on a hike.
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