If you are planning on visiting Orange County in California you must check out the hiking trails in Irvine.
I’m going to list 10 of the best trails as there is something for everyone, from easy trails for families to more strenuous hikes for those looking for more of a challenge.
Irvine is a charming town and has been master-planned in the 1960s by the Irvine Company to perfection, with straight wide roads, plenty of greenery and pre-designed architecture.
I found it a bit too perfect, without much diversity and could not wait to get out and stretch my legs.
All around Irvine is magnificent Southern California nature and hiking trails in Irvine are among the best in this part of the world. Many start right in town and meander through affluent neighborhood’s before heading out into the rolling hills and open fields.
Hiking trails in Irvine are perfect for stretching legs after a busy day of work or for some more strenuous exercise. Here are just some of the most popular hiking trails in Irvine to explore. Since the weather is great all the time, the time for a nice hike is whenever you have a day or two off work.
1. San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary
Just a few blocks from the UC Irvine and the John Wayne Airport is a 300-acre lush area of Irvine Ranch Water District’s San Joaquin Marsh. This freshwater wetland is home to over 200 species of birds.
Peaceful, lush oasis is a popular hiking and jogging spot for the locals. About 12 miles of perfectly groomed trails are meandering through the trees and ponds make this one of the nicest hiking trails in Irvine.
The trails are easy and flat and suitable for all ages and fitness levels. There are even a few interpretative signs offering information about the animals that call this wilderness heaven their home, pelicans, herons, ducks, raccoons, cottontails and many others.
To protect the wildlife, no dogs are allowed at the Sanctuary.
The sanctuary is open year-round from dawn until dusk. It can be accessed from Riparian View and Campus Drive, where you can park on the street.
2. Turtle Rock Trail
Better known as French Hill Loop, the Turtle Rock is a moderately strenuous very popular hike located south of Irvine.
The combination urban/wilderness trail offers some of the best views of the land and ocean, but also massive mansions and swimming pools of the affluent Turtle Rock Summit neighborhood.
The trail also provides hikers with a great opportunity to spot some local animals and enjoy native plants and trees.
Don’t worry about all the overgrown parts, this only adds to the illusion of adventure through the wilderness.
The trail is 6.6 km (4.2 miles) long and has an elevation gain of 247 m. There are some steep portions strewn with large boulders you can easily go around, and it is a combination of paved and dirt paths. You can bring your dog as long as she is on the leash.
Parking is easily available on street. The trail starts on the corner of Turtle Rock Drive and Concordia Way.
3. Mountains to Sea Trail
Mountain to Sea Trail that runs through the San Joaquin Marsh Reserve is 22-mile long and has been declared the National Recreational Trail. It is a point-to-point trail with mild elevation gain, easy and suitable for the whole family.
Because of its length, it can be done in portions, as a day excursion, or as a weekend adventure with stop-overs in various spots along the way.
The trail starts in Irvine Regional Park and continues with a guided hike through the untamed, rugged Weir Canyon Nature Preserve filled with ancient oaks.
From there, the trail goes south on the way to the coast. It passes through five cities and a part of unincorporated Orange County. The constant change of topography and scenery makes this hike so much fun.
The trail is very popular with birdwatchers, but because so many birds and other wildlife live in the neighborhood, dogs are not allowed.
The Mountains to Sea Trail is one of the key elements of the 50,000 acres of preserved open space of the historic Irvine Ranch.
The trail runs from Irvine to Weir Canyo and Peters Canyon regional parks. Then passes by the agricultural headquarter of the historic Irvine Ranch and Katie Wheeler Library.
It then runs along San Diego Creek Channel, ending all the way in Upper Newport Bay and the ocean. This is what makes it an enjoyable network of city parks, trails and preserved lands.
4. Bommer Canyon Trail
Bommer Canyon Trail is a 5.1 km moderately difficult loop trail with a mild elevation gain of 174 m. It runs through a former cattle camp, some rocky crags, ancient oak and sycamore groves and fields of wildflowers.
If you are lucky, you will spot plenty of birds that make this area their home.
Some parts of Bommer Canyon can only be visited with pre-arranged guided hikes, but most of the Bommer Canyon trail is open year-round from dawn to dusk. The access is free of charge.
The historic Bommer Canyon is one of the most popular hikes among Irvine’s outdoorsy folks, but it is rarely crowded.
Most of its elevation gain happens during the last steep stretch of the trail, but you are rewarded for the extra effort by the breathtaking views of Saddleback Mountain inland and the sparkling expanse of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island on the other side.
There are decent restrooms at the trailhead at 6400 Shady Canyon Dr. in Irvine, where you can find 14 parking places.
You can also start your hike at the Sunnyhill trailhead, where there are more parking places. Starting there adds 1.4 miles to the hike.
5. Quail Loop Trail
Quail Loop Trail is a 2.9 km easy and very popular loop trail near Irvine with a mild elevation gain of 43 m. This dusty dirt track is also popular with bikers and dog walkers but dogs have to be leashed.
The trail starts at the Quail Hill base. It is a rare path in the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks that allows dogs.
The trail gets really muddy after heavy rains and it gets closed occasionally. This hike is busy all the time but it is particularly packed in spring when it is surrounded by fields of wildflowers.
All along the trail hikers enjoy a great vista of Saddleback Mountain and Irvine city lights. There are plenty of birds: western meadowlark, quail, hummingbirds and others, especially close to the wetland area near the trailhead.
This trailhead, located a 34 Shady Canyon Dr., provides easy access to other hiking trails near Irvine.
If you want to learn more about the area, call 949-743-5943. It is a free phone number you can access from your cell phone.
6. Shady Canyon Trail
Shady Canyon Trail is 12.6 km long and one of the more popular hiking trails in Irvine that is always heavily trafficked out and back trail with an elevation gain of 175 m.
A mix of paved and dirt trails, it is well-kept and is popular with hikers, runners, bikers and even dogs are allowed on leash.
Because of its length, the trail is not used much by families with kids.
While pleasant any time of the year, Shady Canyon Trail is especially beautiful in spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom. Only occasional noise from the nearby roads shatters the illusion of being in the wilderness.
The trail starts at the Quail Hill Trailhead, at 34 Shady Canyon Dr., which is also the trailhead for several other hikes. It starts as a paved path along the edge of the Quail Hill Preserve and it connects to a few other trails in Irvin’s big network.
If you prefer, you can access the dirt path right off the trailhead.
The best views of the surrounding hills and posh mansions of the neighbourhood are at the point where the trail passes across Bommer Canyon.
To extend your hike, you can take the Turtle Rock Trail for a tour of the neighbourhood. You will eventually reach the popular University Trail.
At the end of the trail, turn right on the Bonita Canyon Trail to get to Irvine’s University High School. If you cross the road and go left on the trail, you will reach the edge of Newport Beach.
7. Hicks Canyon Trail
Hicks Canyon Trail is an easy out and back 6.4 km hike, with an elevation gain of 53 m. It is a mix of paved and dirt roads but it is well-maintained and pleasant for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
The shady trail follows a river and has plenty of nice spots for a picnic. The hike is popular with families with kids. The dogs on leash are allowed too.
The Hicks Canyon Trail starts near Hicks Canyon Community Park and heads up the wash towards Portola Parkway northwest of Jeffrey Road.
There is a parallel bridle trail that starts at the junction of Hicks Canyon Trail and Peters Canyon Trail and keeps up to the opposite end of the trail on Portola Parkway.
The trailside amenities are available at the western end of the trail in Hicks Canyon Community Park as well as in Citrusglen Park. Along the trail, you can find water, benches and wonderful shade trees. The trail is landscaped regularly.
The suggested trailhead is at the eastern end of the trail at the Hicks Canyon Community Park.
8. Jeffrey Open Space Trail
Jeffrey Open Space Trail is an 8.7-kilometer loop trail near East Irvine, with an elevation gain of 58 m. The trail is moderately busy and fairly easy and is used for hiking, running and biking. Dogs are allowed on leash. The trail is open year-round.
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Wide paved trails are lined with mature trees hiding the fact that the trail is running through the city. They are well-maintained and popular with families. Runners are out in the early morning and dog walkers in the evening.
Jeffrey Open Space Trail consists of three disconnected parts. There are painted panels embedded in the concrete that depict the 500-year history of the area.
The paved trail runs along Jeffrey Road through suburban neighbourhoods, shopping malls and open space. At Bryan Avenue, it connects with the Venta Spur Trail. The next trail segment intersects the Walnut Trail next to the rail line.
The third segment continues from at Barranca Parkway, heading south to I-405. Along the way, it connects to the Freeway Trail and the San Diego Creek Trail.
Parking is available at the shopping plaza at the intersection of Trabuco and Jeffrey roads. You can also park at the Woodbury Community Park on the Venta Spur Trail where you can also find restrooms and drinking fountains.
9. Hangman’s Monument
Hangman’s Monument is a 7.7 km out and back fairly challenging hike with an elevation gain of 401 m. It leads to the site of a dark event in Irvine’s history.
To access the hike, you need to get permission from Irvine Ranch Conservancy and be guided by one of their volunteers. There is no fee for the entrance.
In 1857, this spot was the site of the hanging of two bandits by General Andres Pico. The stone monument is surrounded by wildflowers and offers wonderful views in all directions.
Hikes start near the end of Presida Canyon near Hwy. 241/Foothill Toll Rd. For more information and to schedule the hike, contact the Conservancy.
The trail runs through Orchard Hills and Loma Ridge, passing by an avocado grove next to the open space preserve and continues up to Loma Ridge. The views from the Ridge are spectacular and you can see far across Orange County.
The hike has several steep climbs, including more than 2600 feet of climbing elevation. But, if you do not rush, wear good shoes and bring plenty of water, you will enjoy great exercise.
10. Peters Canyon Regional Park
Peters Canyon Loop Trail is a 9.5- kilometre moderately difficult loop trail near Villa Park, California. It has an elevation gain of 190 m.
The trail is accessible year-round from sunrise to sunset and is used by hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders. Dogs are allowed on the trail.
Another, shorter, 2.5-mile Peters Canyon Lake View Trail has less elevation, which makes it easier and more popular with families.
The trail runs through 340-acre park, it is located a short drive from Irvine and is very popular with Irvine folks fond of outdoor recreation.
The park includes a large Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir and Peters Canyon Creek. It is home to plenty of diverse wildlife such as hawks, some small amphibians, bobcats, mule deer and various snakes.
The Park is a unique blend of wild native habitat and man’s stamp on the land. The land is covered by coastal sage scrub, grassland habitats and freshwater marsh.
The reservoir is surrounded by black willows, cottonwoods and sycamores. The park is located at 8548 Canyon View Ave. in Orange. There is a $3 parking fee.
Bonus For the Adrenaline Junkies: Hiking to the Top of the World
If you find all the trails we compiled too tame and not challenging enough, here is one that will get your blood flowing.
This hike is not long, only 2.4 miles (3.9 km) and it can be done in two to three hours depending on how fit you are. But it has an elevation gain of 890 feet (271 m), reaching 1,020 feet (311 m) at the highest elevation, so be prepared to climb. The trail runs through the Top of the World Park.
The short but steep hike will reward you with a breathtaking view once you scramble your way to the summit. This trail is not for the amateurs or those hiking in flipflops. You need serious footwear and plenty of water.
The trail climbs steadily through the dusty coastal scrub of Aliso and Wood Canyon Wilderness Parks until you reach the top. Once there, sit on the bench, catch your breath and enjoy the view of Catalina Island and Mt Baldy.
Parking is usually available at the end of Canyon Acres Drive in Laguna Beach. Check the no parking zones. The trailhead is located 580 Canyon Acres Dr, Laguna Beach.
Hiking trails in Irvine vary between those that run partly through the town and those that head further afield, across rolling hills, towards the ocean. There is something for everyone, from easy trails for the families to more strenuous hikes for those looking for more challenges.
Almost all hikes in Irvine allow dogs on leash. They are well-maintained and provide basic facilities at the trailheads.
Hiking in Irvine is a great opportunity to get close to the local flora and fauna and enjoy the magnificent Orange Country landscapes.