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Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

Willow Canyon Trail, which ultimately reaches a 650-foot elevation. The views get better and better here!

Location:Laguna Beach: 20101 Laguna Canyon Road
Hours: Entry gates are open on weekends only. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: The county-run parking lot is $3 per vehicle during the week, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
For ages: Best for older children

Laguna Coast is an all-time hiking favorite for locals — with its numerous crisscrossing trails, incredible views, and pristine condition, it really can’t be beat for a true glimpse of what Orange County probably looked like hundreds of years ago. Although the park now totals 6,500 acres after donations and acquisitions from The Irvine Co. and others, only small portions are open for use so that the remaining area can remain preserved for the endangered species that call it home — and that’s just the way the locals like it.

FUN FACT: Did you know Orange County has only ONE natural lake? It’s Barbara Lake, and it’s here in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park!

Here, hikers honor the only open trails, still getting a chance to see plenty of coastal sage scrub, oak woodlands, and even some endangered species, such as the California gnatcatcher or the cactus wren. It is also home to the only natural lake in Orange County — Barbara Lake.

You'll see plenty of birds, rabbits, and lizards in this region.

Two of the most popular on-your-own hiking regions are the Jim Dilley Greenbelt Preserve, which includes access to Barbara Lake, and the Jim Dilley Preserve. Both are open for hiking on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Although most of these hikes are too strenuous for tiny children, older kids with a lot of energy will enjoy the challenge. And if you’d like a guide with your hike, there are plenty of those — guides can point out many things you otherwise might miss. There are also guideposts along the way that allow you to call on your cell phone, punch in the number corresponding with your post, and listening to details about your view.

One of the landmarks visible from the Willow Canyon trail is "ghost rock," which sports a fun, cartoonish ghost face!

Those who prefer a guided hike are invited to call to reserve a spot on Saturday mornings, when Laguna Greenbelt volunteers offer a 3.5-mile interpretive hike along Laurel Canyon Loop. The guided hike is moderately strenuous and appropriate for those who are in good enough shape for the 700-foot elevation gain during the trek. The payoff is well worth the effort, however, as participants enjoy a quiet trail through wildflowers and native plants of the region and are rewarded with sightings of native birds, deer and coyotes, as well as a chance to view an earthquake fault, scallop fossils and a hawk’s nest. At the “peak” of the hike, hikers are treated to views of the Pacific from Bommer Ridge. Reservations are necessary. Bring binoculars, cameras and at least 1 liter of water per person.

Other guided hikes, usually offered once a month, include a Full Moon hike (bring flashlights!), a Sunset Hike, and more. Check the OC Parks website (below) or call ahead to see what’s being offered each month.

Where to park: Enter off Laguna Canyon Road, near the Sawdust Festival grounds.

What to bring: Bottled water, sunscreen, hats. Best to wear long pants and tennis shoes for the hike. Binoculars and cameras and at least 1 liter of water per person are recommended for guided hikes. Bring your cell phone if you want to hear the audio-guide at various lookout points.

Best time to go: There’s very little shade here, and the park gets hot in the summer. Spring is beautiful.

For more information: 949-923-2235, Orange County Parks website or Laguna Canyon website 

Do you ever hike in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park? What’s your favorite hike? Do you have any special tips to share?

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