4 Hiking Trails in Orange County

Hiking is one of the most beneficial and effective healthy activities a person can do. The hours of walking improve cardiovascular health, carrying a backpack or water strengthens your legs, shoulders, and trunk muscles, and being outdoors can even improve your mood and outlook. Emotional, physical, and cardiovascular ills all have a solution in hiking.

The advantage of hiking in Orange County is the year-round availability of beautiful trails. Without the fear of snow or freezing weather, hikers both new and experienced can enjoy hiking through the beautiful Santa Ana mountains, improve their health, and get outdoors more often. For many of these trails, you can even bring your dog. Remember—always consult your physician before attempting any unfamiliar or strenuous activity.

Here are 4 beautiful, local trails for Orange County residents to try out.

Always bring:

2 liters of water at least

Trail snacks


First aid kit

Fully-charged cell phone

Black Star Canyon Trail

Length: 6 miles round trip

Perfect for hikers who want a fairly fun and moderately challenging hike, the Black Star Canyon trail begins in the Santa Ana mountains near Silverado, CA. The first portion of the hike is a fairly easy but unshaded stretch of fire road, surrounded by secluded residences for the first section. However, once the fire road reaches a riverbed, the hike becomes shaded and much more challenging.

This hike will include a good amount of bouldering and a bit of scrambling, but all you’ll need is a good pair of shoes and a little confidence. We do not recommend taking a dog or small children, however—you’ll want to find a couple of hiking buddies for this one. One of the best things about this hike is the greenery, as hikers have commented on how beautiful and well-shaded the trail can be.

After 3 miles, the trail leads to a seasonal waterfall. Unless it’s been a wet season, don’t expect a roaring torrent of water—but the scenery is beautiful nonetheless. Some hikers like climbing up the rock wall through the hole at the top of the falls.

Directions from North Orange County

●Take 55 south and exit on Chapman

●Head east on Chapman for 10.8 miles

○Chapman will become Santiago Canyon Road

●Make a left on Silverado past Irvine Lake

●Make an immediate left to Black Star Canyon Road

●Drive a little over a mile to the gate and park your car

Directors from South Orange County

●Take the 5 north to Oso Parkway

●Turn right and go three-quarters of a mile

●Make a left on Marguerite Parkway and stay for 5.6 miles

●Make a right on El Toro Road and go for 8 miles

○El Toro Road becomes Santiago Canyon during this stretch

●Make a right on Silverado

●Make a left on Black Star Canyon Road and park at the end of the road

Carbon Canyon — Redwoods Hike

Length: 2.6 miles round trip

This hike is actually a fairly easy walk through Carbon Canyon Regional Park, which has a small grove of coastal redwoods native to Northern California. The hike is fairly flat, with only about 75 feet of elevation gain over the course of 1.3 miles (one way). The trail is well-marked, and is easy for even the most novice hiker to stick to. Feel free to bring your dogs or small children!

If you choose to take the loop hike (rather than walk to the grove and back), you’ll also get a look at the historic Carbon Canyon Dam. It was completed in 1961, which allowed for the planting of the redwood grove that same year. While the redwoods most people think of are hundreds of years old, the Carbon Canyon redwoods are only a few decades old.


●Take Route 57 to Lambert Road (exit 10)

●Drive 2 miles until Lambert becomes Carbon Canyon Rd.

●Drive for half a mile.

●Turn right into the entrance of Carbon Canyon Regional Park

●Turn left from the first intersection in the park, drive half a mile

●Park in the very last parking lot, which is where the trail begins

Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park

Length: Depend on the trail you choose (between 2.5-3 miles) Be sure to bring $3 for parking.

Here’s a brochure for more information about the park.

Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park is a 523 acre park filled with multiple trailheads, beautiful open spaces, and plenty of wildlife—including a great deal of deer. One of the advantages of hiking at Riley Park is the ability to tailor your hike. You can make your route as difficult or as easy as you’d like, depending on your confidence or skill level or how much time you want to spend outdoors.

The other advantage to multiple trails is you never have the same visit twice! Whether you want to take a quick look through the fields or you want an enormous view of the Santa Ana mountains, Riley Wilderness Park offers both. The terrain includes oak trees, shady wooded areas, small climbs with big views (particularly Skink Vista), and a lot of greenery in the spring or after a little rain.


●Exit the 5 freeway on Oso Parkway

●Drive towards the Santa Ana mountains through Mission Viejo

●Take Oso Parkway through Ladera Ranch past the end of the 241 toll road

●Turn right into the park just before you reach Coto De Caza Dr.

El Moro / Crystal Cove Beach Hike

Length: 5.5 miles (800 feet of elevation gain)

If you’re looking for a great hike that won’t take all day, visit Crystal Cove State Park! The park has multiple trails to choose from, ranging in length and difficulty. The hike described here is the intermediate hike—good for hikers who are starting to get a feel for the trail. In addition to plenty of water and snacks, you’ll also need $15 for a day pass for the park.

This trail loop is a great workout, so if you’re new to hiking, make sure your doctor signs off on strenuous activity before you take this on! The hike takes you up El Moro Ridge in a moderately difficult incline, where you’ll have sweeping vistas of Laguna Beach to the Newport Coast. The trail is beautiful and hikable year-round, with deer, rabbit, and rattlesnakes for company in the warm months.

Visit the Crystal Cove State Park website for directions from your area.

There you have it! Four amazing hikes in the Orange County area, all easily accessible for the novice or intermediate hiker. Start on the easy hikes for a leisurely afternoon or challenge yourself on the intense trails found in Riley Wilderness Park or Crystal Cove State Park. No matter what you try, hiking is always beneficial—it makes your body stronger, your heart healthier, and your brain happier. All we ask is that you seek your doctor’s advice before embarking on any new fitness efforts—and make sure to bring plenty of water!

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

Categories: Wellness, Exercise