A great local getaway is right in the backyard of our beautiful California state. There are a vast amount of hiking and backpacking trails in the Orange County area that will take you into the beautiful solitude of nature. Just make sure you are prepared any season of the year. Experts recommend you pack lightly, but with intention. Think sun protection, ample water supply and water filtering, map, insulation, lighting, first-aid, matches, repair kit and tools and emergency shelter. Many state and regional parks are equipped to take in overnight backpackers. Be sure to plan ahead by purchasing permits and by understanding the park rules.
Crystal Cove State Park
8471 N. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Backpackers get both native backcountry wilderness and endangered coastal plants while trekking through Crystal Cove State Park’s riparian woodlands with oak and sycamore trees. Explore 2,400 acres and 17 miles of trails. There are three campgrounds available: Moro, Deer Canyon and Upper Moro. Depending on where you are planning to stake out for the night, it may take anywhere from two to six hours to arrive at one of the sites. Definitely plan on uphill, strenuous hiking, and be prepared to have enough water packed because drinking water is not available at the campsites or on the trails. All equipment and gear must be packed in and packed out (this means trash too).
Mt Baldy Road
Mount Baldy, CA 91759
A trip to Mt. Baldy is not a trip for novices or beginners. The Cucamonga Peak is a backpacking adventure for experienced hikers, and one that is well worth the effort. The loop itself is almost 12 miles and takes approximately seven to eight hours to complete in one go. Although steep with multiple switchbacks, the scenery along the way up to the peak offers a beautiful perspective of Southern California. Popular from late spring to early fall, Cucamonga Peak is an ideal trail to split up. Camping overnight is permitted, you just need to purchase an Adventure Pass to secure a wilderness permit before entering the Cucamonga Peak trail. Permits are available at the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center. Lots of water, food, sunscreen, sturdy trail shoes and walking sticks are recommended.
O’Neill Regional Park
30892 Trabuco Canyon Road
Trabuco Canyon, CA 92678
(949) 923-2260 or (949) 923-2256
As you make your way through the canyons of O’Neill Regional Park, you’ll see magnificent hillsides of cactus, sagebrush, wild buckwheat and mountain mahogany. Trails are flanked by coast live oak and sycamore trees. Take in the beauty, peace and quiet along Live Oak Trail, which leads you to a beautiful sunset from Vista Point where you can see Catalina Island as well as San Clemente Island. This trail is several miles long over the foothills. Arroyo Trabuco Trail leads you down the canyon between Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita. Take Mesa Trail if you bring your dog, on a leash, along for the backpacking trip. When you are ready to call it a day, the Arroyo campground (showers and toilets are available) is your best bet to kick back and relax. Reservations are required. Call the park office or visit online to claim your spot.
Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
33401 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Caspers Wilderness Park is a local favorite in Orange County for those looking to get some hiking and camping in In addition, he preserve is a great destination for a family to take an overnight backpacking outing. The Bell Creek trail is an easy to moderate hike accommodating most skill levels where backpackers will walk through stunning oak woodlands and peaceful savannas. Make sure to Visit the ranger office to find out how to take a ranger-guided walk or “critter talk.” Nominal fees are required to participate. Live Oak Campground is nearby without running showers currently due to Southern California drought conditions.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
12551 Highway 79
Descanso, CA 91916
(760) 765-3020 or (800) 444-PARK
East of San Diego, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is on Highway 79, five miles north of I-8. The park is massive, with more than 100 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians. Backpackers enjoy both hiking in the oak woodlands along beautiful meadows and creeks, then setting up camp in Paso Picacho, about five miles north at an elevation of 5,000 feet. For the best selfie of the hike, continue climbing up 3.5 miles to Cuyamaca Peak, where you can take in stunning views of the California landscape. You’ll see our deserts, coasts and a breathtaking view of Lake Cuyamaca. The campsites can be reserved for $30 per night, and offer restrooms with flush toilets and pay showers. You will definitely be among car campers.