Location:Trabuco Canyon: 30892 Trabuco Canyon Road
Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset year-round; trails are closed for three days following rain
Cost: The county parking lot runs $3 per vehicle for day use on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
For ages: All
O’Neill seems worlds away from the suburbia of Orange County. You’ll love the uniqueness of stomping across fallen oak leaves to get to picnic tables under canopies of sycamores, and you’ll feel you’ve traveled a long way, even though civilization is right around the bend.
Although the park spans 3,100 acres, you don’t have to drive very far into the grounds for a pleasant day, especially if you have little ones: Just beyond the ranger’s station is Oak Grove – a large, grassy, day-use picnic area with tot lot, natural history museum, and restrooms nearby. The area is popular for cyclists, hikers, equestrians, photographers, bird-watchers, and kids of all ages.
You can start your day in Oak Grove with a picnic lunch, easily bring your supplies back to the car (parking lots are nearby), then saunter through the nature museum, which is filled with information about the wildlife in the park, including several taxodermied animals, from beavers to mountain lions, that you can see up close.
After wandering through the museum, little ones might like to simply run rampant through the grassy meadows, cavort through the tot lot, and climb the age-old trees like all children should.
Those who are up for an easy hike can set off for the Edna Spaulding Nature Trail. (Trailhead is near Oak Grove – maps are available at the ranger station.) The Edna Spaulding trail is a barely-one-mile loop — the easiest hike in the park, and open to hikers only. But if you’re up for some bigger adventures, there are a multitude of longer trails, such as Live Oak Trail, Coyote Canyon Trail, Vista Trail, the Hoffman Homestead Trail, and Pawfoot Path.
Live Oak Trail is one of the most popular. Accessible from the Edna Spaulding Trail or Pawfoot Path, it is a moderately strenuous hike that will take you up into the chapparal-covered hills into higher and higher elevations. The sometimes-paved, sometimes-dirt path is open to hikers, bicycles and equestrians and is often crowded out with wildflowers in early spring, sending up intoxicating scents as you hike among the sounds of birds in the trees, the rustle of rabbits in the bushes and the sights of hawks flying overhead. At the top, you’ll be treated to views of Saddleback Mountain and Modejska Peak that offer a vantage you’ve never seen before, with valleys of natural wildflowers between you and the mountains. At the highest point of the hike (Vista Point), hikers can even see the Pacific.
If you plan to hike awhile, come prepared – hats, sunscreen, water, long pants and maps are necessary on those adventures.
Fast Fact: O’Neill Park offers a ranger-guided hike every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. — a great way to get to know the paths in the 3,000-acre park, and learn some of the common birds, plants and animals you might see on a seasonal basis.
Ranger-guided hikes meet at the park office, right at the main entrance at 9 a.m. on Saturdays. (After rains, call before you go to verify that a hike will be conducted that day.)
Where to park: Parking is plentiful inside the park. There is a parking fee at a manned station. Enter the park and parking lot off the winding and scenic Trabuco Canyon Road, which is accessed from either El Toro (from the north) or Santa Margarita Parkway (from the south).
What to bring: Parking fee, bottled water, sunscreen, hats. Great place for a picnic lunch. Best to wear long pants and tennis shoes if you plan to do any hiking. There are no snack stands here, so if kids will get hungry, be sure to bring snacks and water.
Best time to go: Spring, when the flowers are in full bloom and there’s a little water in the stream. But the park is open and accessible year-round.
For more information: 949-923-2260 or Orange County Parks website
Do you like to hike or bring the kids to play in O’Neill Park? Share your tips and memories with us!