Location: Lake Forest: Off Portola Parkway (turn onto Market Street; the entrance to the park is on the left) or off Glenn Ranch Road.
Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset. Park is closed up to three days following rain.
Cost: Entry fees for the county-run park are $3 per vehicle during the week, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.
For ages: Best for older children and adults
Although Whiting Ranch’s Portola-entry parking lot is next door to a tile-roofed mini-mall, giving the illusion that you’re going to run across a Starbucks out on the trail somewhere, don’t be fooled – this trail offers a true wilderness experience, with 1,500 acres of forested canyons just beyond the entry gate, including undeveloped woodland, pristine riparian scenery and the sun sparkling through canopies of huge, old oak trees.
Word of warning, though: Being a “true wilderness experience” means that this park also has its share of the “true experience” of mountain lions — there have been some serious injuries and even a death in recent decades from mountain-lion attacks, so true caution is necessary. Park rangers (who are available for tips and discussion at the Glenn Ranch Road entrance) and posted signs (at the Portola entrance) offer tips on dealing with possible mountain-lion run-ins. Children shouldn’t hike alone here, or even very far ahead of you.
The pretty McFadden Ranch House park office and interpretive center offers cultural and natural history exhibits and park information. Though difficult to find (it’s just south of Cook’s Corner, near Old El Toro Road adjacent to the Aliso Creek Bike Trail), it’s a nice introduction to a child’s wilderness hiking experience.
Once inside the park, hikers are treated to beautiful blankets of fallen leaves, peaceful dapples of sunshine through the tree canopies, and even a few intermittent springs (in the springtime). The highlight of the park is Red Rock Canyon, an approximate 2.25-mile hike on mostly flat terrain from the Portola entrance. The rock outcroppings are truly worth seeing.
Some of the trails here are unprotected from the sun – a true desert experience – so be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen on warm days. Other parts of the trail provide the cool shade of sycamore groves, and sitting down on a log to enjoy the quietude can make you feel like you’re in another world.
Mountain biking is extremely popular here.
Where to park: There are two entrances: one off Portola Parkway and one off Glenn Ranch Road. Parking is plentiful.
What to bring: Cash for the entry fee, which you’ll leave in a drop box. Bottled water per person, sunscreen, hats. Best to wear long pants and tennis shoes for the hike.
Best time to go: Parts of this trail have very little shade, and the park gets hot in the summer. Spring is beautiful.
For more information: Orange County Parks website
Have you ever hiked or biked in Whiting Ranch? Do you have any trail tips to share?