The 9 Best Hikes in Orange County, California

If you’re planning a trip to California and plan on stopping in Orange County, remember that it’s more than just beautiful beaches. It’s also home to excellent hiking and walking trails that showcase the natural beauty and diversity of the area. From gentle walks along the ocean to intense hikes through the interior mountains, there is something for every type of hiking enthusiast. So take the time to explore and experience our list of the top 9 hikes in “The O.C.”

9. Peter’s Canyon 

Peters Canyon Rd., Tustin, March 1966

Located smack dab in the middle of Orange County, this hike is one of the most popular ones on this entire list. Starting in the city of Orange, this 6.5 mile loop trail rewards hikers with a view that makes it hard to believe you’re in the middle of suburbia. It can be extremely busy during the weekend, so try and arrive early if you want to have the best chance of a peaceful hike. More information can be found here.

8. Top of World Hike, Laguna Beach

Top of The World

Source: Flickr

While it’s not the longest hike (the most popular trail is only 2.5 miles) this hike is arguably the best beach trail in California. Suitable for most hikers, this trail is a perfect spot for a sunset date or quick hike out with the family. Try to time it so you reach the top during sunset – the view is truly incredible.

7. Whiting Ranch

A collection of trails nestled directly in the heart of suburban Orange County, first time hikers may have trouble believing that there is anything but strip malls to be found on this hike. We guarantee that you’ll think differently once you’ve reached the top! There are various trails for all different levels, each with their own unique natural characteristics. Take, for example, the Red Rocks trail. It’s one of the most distinctive rock formations in the entire Southern California region and a true geologic surprise.

6. Barbara’s Lake Loop Trail

It’s not common knowledge that Orange County is actually home to several lakes. While most of them are man made, Barbara’s Lake near Tustin is all natural. Hikers who complete the moderate 3 mile loop can take a look into how the landscape must have looked prior to any human settlement. At the top, the view can be jarring: a natural, clean lake on one side and sprawling suburbia on the other.

5. Holy Jim Falls Trail
Holy Jim Trail - 20 Below

Source: Flickr

Find it hard to believe that there are waterfalls in Orange County? Then check out the hike to the Holy Jim Falls. It’s best hiked in the early spring, when the foliage is good and the water is most likely to be flowing. California is in the midst of one of its worse droughts ever, so if you want to see flowing water you may want to take this hike sooner, rather than later. Be warned, however, that the ride up to the trail head can be quite rough and it’s recommended to take an off road vehicle to get there.

4. Laurel Canyon Loop Trail

This 3.5 mile loop is the perfect trail for a quick Sunday morning nature walk. Along the trail is an excellent array of various native plants, jagged rocks, and geological features. The trail terminates in a great panoramic view of the rest of the coast.

3. Carbon Canyon Redwood Grove

Carbon Canyon Redwoods

Source: Flickr

While it’s not quite the most scenic or natural hike, we felt it deserved a high spot on this list for one unique reason: It’s the only place outside of Northern California where visitors can come in contact with native redwood trees. While these young trees are dwarfed by their Northern cousins, they are still a worthwhile trip for a visitor unable to make it all the way to Redwood National Forest.

2. Black Star Canyon

Black Star Canyon

Black Star Canyon  (6)

We give Black Star Canyon high marks for several reasons: its uniqueness, remoteness, and somewhat strangeness. Nestled in the Santa Ana mountains, this trail is synonymous with local legends and scare stories. A site of a bloody battle between the Tongva Indians and fur trappers, it has long been rumored to be haunted. Signs of the native habitation abound throughout the hike, including pothole grinding rocks and cleared meadows for living arrangements. As if that weren’t enough, there are many urban legends of satanic rituals, KKK meetups, murders, and ghosts of children from a crashed school bus. It’s hard to find a place in Southern California with a more intriguing (and somewhat spooky!) background. Besides being brave enough to complete the hike, you will also need to be in good shape – if you do the full length it’s approximately 17 miles.

1. Crystal Cove

Beach Crystal Cove state park Los Angeles USA

A staple hiking area for any O.C. resident, Crystal Cove State Park offers 17 miles of beautiful trails that wind their way through nearly 2400 acres of California coastline. Higher trails offer excellent views of both the Pacific Ocean and the mountainous backdrop of Southern California’s mountainous interiors. Take your time to stroll through some of the greatest natural landscape in the area before ending your day with a beautiful sunset at the beach. Doesn’t get any more O.C. than that.