|Trailhead||26711 Portola Parkway
Lake Forest, CA
Whiting Ranch is a part of the OC Parks Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Whiting Ranch is open to the public like most other Orange County parks, while Limestone Canyon is only open two days a month for open access days and for guided tours. Whiting Ranch is very popular with mountain bikers but is open to hikers and even has a few trails that are only open to those on foot.
Borrego Trail out to Red Rock Canyon starts from the parking lot located on Portola Parkway right at Market Place in Lake Forest. Parking is $3, just as it is at most other OC Parks. The trailhead is marked by a sculpture garden with a large obelisk at its center that’s dedicated to the local wildlife. There is also an information kiosk that has all of the standard warnings and information for the park, and some maps of the park’s trails that you can take with you.
Once on the trail, the first thing you’ll notice is a large sign warning of mountain lions. This isn’t the only mountain lion warning on the trail, and for good reason. Over the years there have been a number of mountain lion attacks in Whiting Ranch, including one fatal one in 2004. However, Whiting Ranch is a very popular park and the odds of being attacked are very low.
The trail heads north through a valley that’s flanked by houses. Despite that, you get the feeling of being in the wilderness quite quickly. Almost immediately you cross a sandy, dry stream bed that’s a bit difficult to walk in and very difficult to ride a bike in. This stream hadn’t been quite so sandy prior to the winter storms of 2007, but that year the rains washed a lot of sand down out of the canyons and deposited it on the lower reaches of the stream.
The trail continues through some old oak groves and over another stream crossing. Most of the way up Borrego Trail is fairly well wooded and shady. While my wife and I were hiking along the trail, we saw a family of mule deer on the hillside not far from the trail. Wildlife abounded all along Borrego trail, with countless lizards, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks skittering along through the plants as we made our way along.
As the trail continues into the park, you’ll come to a trail intersection with Mustard Road. This is a larger trail, big enough to drive a truck on, where you’ll see another informational sign, including a little map in case you didn’t pick one up for yourself at the trailhead. At this intersection, you’ll head right along Mustard Road for just a hundred feet or so up a small incline. As you round a bend in the road, you’ll see a picnic bench with two additional trails leading off. The smallest of these trails is the Red Rock Trail, which will take you out to Red Rock Canyon.
Red Rock Trail is only open to hikers. The trail mostly follows a dry creek and has been marked with large rocks. Red Rock Trail is much more exposed than Borrego Trail and has the potential to be very hot. The further out you go on this trail, the more scenic the scenery becomes. Unfortunately, the trail also gets more rocky and you’ll have to spend a good deal of time looking down where your feet are going.
Once you make it out to Red Rock Canyon the trail ends. There are signs posted to stay out of the canyon and away from the sandstone walls. This is more to protect the fragile stone and not really to protect hikers. It might seem strange to think of stone as fragile, but if you go out there not long after a rain you’ll be able to see where the falling water has made little craters in the stone face. It looks just like it would in a sandbox after a rain. However, Red Rock Canyon is one of the nicest rock formations in Orange County, rivaled only by the Sinks in Limestone Canyon.
The way out is right back the way you came, at least until you reach Mustard Road. There is a second trail, Cattle Pond Loop, that makes a small loop right where Mustard Road and Red Rock Trail meet. If you’re interested in an extra .2 miles, Cattle Pond Loop is a nice little jaunt up and then down in a big horseshoe. The rest of this hike is so flat, it’s nice to get just a little bit of elevation thrown in before heading back to the car.
Red Rock Canyon has earned itself a spot among the more popular hiking destinations in Orange County due to the unique sandstone canyons. Getting there is easy on this flat trail as long as you don’t mind the four and a half mile walk. As a hiker, you’ll have to watch out for the numerous mountain bikers that frequent Whiting Ranch, but on this flat section of trail you shouldn’t have any problems. Red Rock Canyon is a great family excursion for a half day hike.
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