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Hiking California's Laguna Coast Wilderness Areas

By Edited Jan 22, 2016 2 4

Laguna Coast Wilderness

Hiking, Mountain Biking, and Nature

Just two or three miles from the famous resort town of Laguna Beach is a 20,000 acre wilderness park.

Orange County, California is known more for fabulous ocean front homes, charming beach towns, Disneyland and beautiful suburban communities than it is for wilderness areas. However, Orange County also contains a 20,000 acre wilderness park called the Laguna Coast Wilderness Area. This wilderness area is undoubtedly part of Orange County's charm and one of the reasons that the county has such a high quality of life. The wilderness areas are adjacent to the communities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Irvine, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Hills, and Laguna Woods.

Laguna Wilderness Area


Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Activities

Popular activities in the Orange County wilderness areas include hiking and bicycling along the many trails and paths that wind through the Laguna Wilderness Park. Bird watchers and naturalists can spend long hours pursuing their hobbies. The Laguna Canyon Foundation also has volunteer tour guides and naturalists who will lead groups on scheduled hikes through different areas of the wilderness. Hiking in the wilderness areas is a fun way to start or intensify your personal walking program.

Examples of Laguna Coast Wilderness Hikes

Here are a few sample hikes that are scheduled on a routine basis:

Elder Trek – A 2 mile hike with volunteer naturalists. It leaves from from the Nix Nature Center on the west side of Laguna Canyon Road.

Fitness Hike – A 3.5 mile hike that takes you up 700 feet in elevation over steep, uneven terrain. It is considered very strenuous and fast-paced, and is not for beginners. Hiking poles are recommended. Other fitness hikes go over 4.8 miles, with a 400 foot elevation gain.

Native Plant Hike – This hike is led by volunteer naturalists who are familiar with the native plants in the Orange County wilderness areas.

Exploring Biodiversity Hike – This hike is designed to help you learn about the diversity of plant and animal species.

Yoga for Seniors Walk – This is a peaceful, relaxing 1.5 mile stroll during which you will practice yoga stretches, breathing, and relaxation exercises.

Yoga for Children Walk – This is a fun yoga experience in a wilderness setting, led by Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers. The children should bring their own yoga mat, towel and water.

Birding Hike – A treat for Southern California bird watchers, this hike is designed to help you spot resident and summer migratory birds.

Trailside Encounters – This is one of the hikes that I have gone on. It is a 1 mile gentle hike with an Orange County Parks Ranger through the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. Also, in the same section of the wilderness area, you can sign up for a Recreational Mountain Bike Ride. When I was going on my hike there, a number of mountain bike riders seemed to be having a wonderful time on the trails!

There is also a Baby and Me Hike, a Family Bike Ride, a California Natives Hike, and additional Fitness Hikes and Recreational Mountain Bike Rides.

Wilderness Plants and Animals

Among the wildlife that can be spotted in different areas of the Laguna Canyon Wilderness areas are coyotes, rabbits, bobcats, skunks, deer, lizards, rattle snakes, an occasional mountain lion, hawks, and numerous other birds and animals. The wilderness also is thick with common California plants such as sage, oaks, poison oak, willows, wildflowers, fennel, prickly pear cactus, and much more. Depending on the type of hike you choose, you will see a variety of native birds, animals and plants. Although some of these trails are open to people who choose to hike alone, you may find it is far safer and more interesting to go with a naturalist who can identify some of the plants, birds, and animal tracks that you will see along the trail.

Popular hiking trails in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Area

Many of the trails can be accessed from either side of Laguna Canyon Road, between the 405 freeway and the town of Laguna Beach. However, there are also other access points. For example, the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness areas, which are part of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, can be accessed from the town of Aliso Viejo.

If you want to find out more about all the parks in Orange County, you may want to use this direct Amazon link to the book "Beaches and Parks in Southern California."

For More Information

Whenever you visit the Laguna Wilderness Areas, it is highly recommended that you bring water, and wear sunscreen, a hat and good shoes. Hiking boots are not necessary, but it is suggested that you wear sturdy walking shoes rather than flip-flops or sandals. The wilderness areas are interspersed with plenty of wide, groomed dirt trails, so the walking surface is not too difficult. However, the land is very hilly, so you need to be in good enough shape to handle the changing elevations. Don't stay out on the trails too long the first time or two that you go. Test yourself before you spend an hour hiking into the park, only to discover that you are too exhausted to hike back out!

All the entrances to the park are not open all the time. It is best if you start out visiting the park by going on one of the scheduled hikes. As you become more familiar with the different trails, you can try hiking by yourself or with a friend.

Although there is no actual charge for many of the hikes, they typically ask for a $2 or $3 donation.

The entire Laguna Coast Wilderness Area can be closed to hikers and bicyclists when there is a high fire danger. It is best to check one of the websites listed below, to see the schedule of available hikes and to be aware of any specific alerts:




You can also go to the lagunacanyon.org website if you want to volunteer or support the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

If you enjoy hiking in a natural setting, the wilderness areas in Orange County, California have plenty of opportunities to choose from.

So strap on those hiking boots or tennis shoes, and discover the wild side of Orange County.

If you would like to learn about enjoying other California recreational activities, you may be interested in one of the articles listed below:

Our Oceans and Urban Runoff

Enjoying Your Laguna Beach Vacation

Family Fun: Your California Beach, Golf and Disneyland Vacation!

Cheap Hotels near Disneyland

Universal Studios Hollywood, a review

You Can Prevent a Wild Fire

Exploring Charming Avila Beach, California

Photo taken by author


Learn More About All the Southern California Beaches and Parks

Beaches and Parks in Southern California: Counties Included: Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego (Experience the California Coast)
Amazon Price: $34.95 $20.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 22, 2016)
Find out where they are located, what they charge, special tours and more in this handy book that will be appreciated by both Southern California residents and visitors.


Oct 3, 2010 11:38pm
hiking and cycling is a great way to take in the scenery and at the same time to keep fit. Very informative!
Oct 4, 2010 10:13am
Thanks for the informative information. Love your list -- I wish I had the time to do all those activities. Don't forget, the laguna coast is a great place for running too. I've got lots of pics on my blog www.laurenontherun.blogspot.com
Oct 11, 2010 9:31pm
The last two times I was in Southern California, I stayed in Orange County, but I've never been to the Laguna Coast Wilderness Area. This place sounds awesome! Whenever I travel, I enjoy the natural scenery as well as the cultural. I will make sure I make time to visit Laguna Coast Wilderness Area the next time I'm in Southern California.
Oct 7, 2014 5:02pm
The Laguna Wilderness area is almost a secret ... cherished by local residents! It is a wonderful place to take a hike, however.
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