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Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park – The Sinks





Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park

Vital Stats
Trailhead check +Lake+Forest, order +CA&hl=en&ll=33.681229,-117.665098&spn=0.009856,0.01929&sll=33.680515,-117.664733&sspn=0.009856,0.01929&vpsrc=0&gl=us&hnear=26711+Portola+Pkwy,+Lake+Forest,+Orange,+California+92610&t=m&z=16″>26711 Portola Parkway
Lake Forest, CA
Length 4.6 Miles
Elevation 446 Feet
Difficulty Easy

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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Vital Stats
Trailhead sick +Laguna+Canyon+Road, price +Laguna+Beach, pfizer +CA+92651&aq=0&sll=33.579999,-117.761893&sspn=0.009939,0.01929&vpsrc=0&gl=us&ie=UTF8&hq=Willow+Staging+Area,&hnear=Laguna+Canyon+Rd,+Laguna+Beach,+California+92651&ll=33.579892,-117.76228&spn=0.009868,0.01929&t=m&z=16″>Willow Staging Area
20101 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Length 3.53 Miles
Elevation 557 Feet
Difficulty Moderate

This hike in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park visits some of the more lush areas of Orange County due to its proximity to the ocean. The route is steep in places and goes over some ill-maintained trails but is a pleasant hike non-the-less, especially towards the end.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is sandwiched between Laguna Canyon Road (SR 133) and Crystal Cove State Park. The park gets a lot of damp sea air so the park stays green year round, unlike most of the rest of Orange County. Unfortunately, the park doesn’t get a the nice sea breeze that you might expect being so close to the ocean. Combine the lack of sea breeze with the wide fire road trails and no shade, the trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park can feel much warmer than you might expect.

This route through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park starts at the Willow Staging Area, located along Laguna Canyon Road just south of El Toro Road. There is a dirt parking lot at the Willow Staging Area that can be quite crowded on busy weekends. Also located at the Willow Staging Area is a ranger station and information board. You can pick up a trail map and, on the weekend, park rangers will ask you to sign in so they know how many people are in the park.

There are two trails that lead out from the ranger station, Willow Canyon Road and Laurel Canyon Trail. This route head off on Willow Canyon Road and comes back using Laurel Canyon Trail. Willow Canyon Road is fire road that starts out flat for the first few hundred feet followed by 1.4 miles of up hill. The trail is wide and has little shade along the route. Most of the trail is hard-packed dirt with some places of slick rock. It’s possible to see where they’ve done trail maintenance and clearing with a scraper of some sort.
Once the trail has wound up the hill side, you’ll reach a slight leveling off and two trails branching off from Willow Canyon Road, Laurel Spur and Bommer Ridge Trail. For this route, you’ll want to take the first turnoff, Laurel Spur.

Laurel Spur is a steep downhill on a fairly poorly maintained trail. All along the trail, there is a deep gulch running along one side of the trail. There are a number of other areas that show erosion across the trail, but those areas aren’t too bad off. The trail has everything from slick rock, to hard packed dirt to loose sand. Once at the bottom of the hill, Laurel Spur dead ends at Laurel Canyon Trail. To the left is a fire road that will take you across San Joaquin Transportation Corridor (SR 73) to the Nix Nature Center. To the right is a single-track trail that’s closed to mountain bikes that will take you back to the parking lot.

Laurel Canyon Trail is the real jewel of this hike. It follows along the banks of a stream, dry during the summer, and under a lush canopy. In places, the stream has eaten into the trail, making it quite narrow with a steep drop off if you miss your step (which is likely why this is closed to cyclists.) The trail crosses the stream in a number of places before it opens up into a meadow, flanked by the hill you just climbed. The trail continues, running along south, mostly paralleling Laguna Canyon Road but always getting closer to the roadway. Thankfully, you can’t see the road until the intersection with El Toro Road, just a few hundred feet away from the parking lot. Despite being so close, there is one final climb, up and then down, before you arrive back at the Willow Staging Area.

Willow Canyon Road and Laurel Canyon Trail make for a nice workout for the average hiker. The first two thirds of the hike are fairly steep up and then down, with the last third being a lovely trail through some of the most lush topography in Orange County.

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Vital Stats
Trailhead denture +Brea, ampoule +CA+92823&hl=en&ll=33.92091,-117.829828&spn=0.009829,0.01929&sll=33.919289,-117.835429&sspn=0.009402,0.01929&vpsrc=0&gl=us&hnear=4442+Carbon+Canyon+Rd,+Brea,+California+92823&t=m&z=16″>4442 Carbon Canyon Road
Brea, CA 92823
Length 2.62 Miles
Elevation 151 Feet
Difficulty Very Easy

Carbon Canyon Regional Park is a true regional park, not a wilderness park in any way. The majority of the park is comprised of a lake for fishing and large grassy open areas. There are also numerous shelters with tables and BBQs, tennis and volleyball courts, baseball fields, and playgrounds. There are also four groves of trees located around the park. Three of the four are easily accessible by car, but the only way to visit the grove of Coastal Redwoods is via the park’s only “nature” trail.

The Carbon Canyon Regional Park nature trail that leads to the redwood grove is the best maintained trail I’ve seen in Orange County. It’s wide, flat and utterly boring. The trail starts at the far eastern edge of the park, through the pinewood grove. Once through the pinewood grove, the trail drops down slightly to cross a dry stream bed and then climbs back up just slightly. Once level again, the trail continues westerly between the foot of the hill and Carbon Canyon Stream.

Currently, Carbon Canyon Stream is being dredged. From the work being done, it looks like they are preparing to line the stream with concrete and generally make it feel less natural. Even without the work being done on the stream, the trail never feels a part of nature. It’s always possible to see the manicured lawns of the park proper or the giant dam that doesn’t seem to hold back any water.

As you continue on the trail it curves around slightly to the left where you’ll see the redwood grove. The dozens of redwoods that make up the grove were planted in the mid-1970s, when the park was first opening. Costal Redwoods are not a native species in Orange County and when you walk through the grove you can tell that they don’t belong. There is no ecosystem around the trees, simply trees in the near dead, hard packed ground of Orange County. The type of magic that’s present in a natural redwood forest is simply missing in this artificial grove.
On the far side of redwood grove is a paved path that you’ll head down to get back. The pavement doesn’t continue very far and you’re quickly back on dirt. This part of the trail heads right up to the foot of the dam and continues along the dam until you reach a graded opening. At the end of the opening there is a short spur of trail that connects up with the main nature trail, which you can take back to your car.

Despite how well maintained this trail is, or maybe because of it, I wouldn’t recommend this trail for most people. It makes for a fine trail run since it is very flat and the trail is smooth, but it would be an incredibly boring hike or bike ride. Even though this is called a “nature” trail, never once will you feel like you’re in nature while you’re on the trail.

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Vital Stats
Trailhead medical -117.531996&sspn=0.039424, cure 0.077248&hnear=Trabuco+Creek+Rd+%26+Holy+Jim+Canyon+Rd, viagra here +Trabuco,+Orange,+California+92883&t=m&z=16″>Trabuco Creek Rd & Holy Jim Canyon Rd
Trabuco, CA 92883
Length 3.42 Miles
Elevation 705 Feet
Difficulty Modrerate

This past Tuesday, after the rains on Saturday and Monday, I headed out to Holy Jim Falls in the Cleveland National Forest. I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a while now, but I’ve been waiting until after some rain to ensure the falls are at their fullest. This hike did not disappoint, it is by far one of the nicest hikes in Orange County.

Driving to the trailhead takes a little bit of work, but it’s a beautiful drive in itself. Live Oak Canyon Road, which is the turnoff from Santiago Canyon Road where Cook’s Corner is located, is a densely shaded road that winds it way through a forest of live oaks.

From Live Oak Canyon Road you turn off onto a dirt road, Trabuco Creek Road. The first couple of miles of Trabuco Creek Road is well maintained until you hit the gate to Cleveland National Forest. The road through Cleveland National Forest is some of the most challenging off road driving I’ve ever done, I would highly suggest a car with sufficient ground clearance, such as a pickup truck or SUV. I made it out there in my Subaru WRX but I did hurt my front bumper coming over a large mogul. Plan to take a half hour or more to drive the 4.7 miles from Live Oak Canyon Road to the trailhead.

There is a small parking lot on the left hand side of the road as you approach the trailhead. To park here, you’ll need an Adventure Pass, which I picked up at the Silverado Canyon Market next to the Silverado Branch Library, or a National Park Service Golden Access Passport. The road continues for another half mile or so towards the actual trailhead, however this portion of the road is for access to a number of cabins that are located on leased forest land and there is no public parking beyond this point.

From the parking lot, continue to follow the road, being careful not to wander up someone’s driveway. After about a half mile, there will be a slight “Y” in the road, to the right is a newer looking cabin and to the left is the actual trailhead. The trailhead is marked by an open gate and a placard provided as an Eagle Scout project.

From the trailhead, it’s 1.4 miles to the falls along the bottom of a gorgeous canyon. The trail meanders back and forth across the stream a dozen times. Throughout the canyon are native live oaks that are hundreds of years old as well as naturalized fig trees that have spread from early orchards in the canyon 140 years ago. In fact, there were a number of homesteads in the canyon around the 1870s. Originally the canyon was home to tin prospectors but never became a commercially viable mine. Afterwards, a number of people make their living as bee keepers in the canyon, including Jim Smith. The story goes that Mr. Smith had a foul mouth and was often referred to as Cussing Jim. When cartographers came through to make a map of the area, they didn’t find the name Cussing Jim to be appropriate for the name of the canyon or the falls, so they made up the name Holy Jim.

Along the trail there are a number of signs that offer interesting tidbits about the history of the area. The first sign is located at the site of Cussing Jim’s cabin and original orchard, although only a small section of wall remains at the location. Once past the fourth marker and sign, you’ll come to a split in the trail with the falls to the right and Main Divide Road to the left.

From this split the falls are another 0.25 miles further up the trail. Here the trail narrows and is flanked by poison oak, so watch your step. This is actually the hardest part of the trail. It requires scrambling over rocks that have been worn smooth over the years by hikers.

Holy Jim Trail is the nicest trail in Orange County. Even though you’re only a few miles from civilization, Holy Jim Canyon feels as far removed as anything you can find, surrounded by mountains and forests. If you can manage to go out on a week day after a rain, as I did, the falls provide a tranquil spot to enjoy nature. This hike is highly recommended for its remoteness, beauty, and serenity.

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Vital Stats
Trailhead pilule +CA+92869&hl=en&ll=33.822031,-117.775476&spn=0.00984,0.019312&sll=33.827343,-117.769017&sspn=0.00984,0.019312&gl=us&hnear=2145+N+Windes+Dr,+Orange,+California+92869&t=h&z=16″>2145 N. Windes Drive
Orange, CA 92869
Length 3.58 Miles
Elevation 459 Feet
Difficulty Hard

The hike up Peralta Hills Trail is surprisingly difficult. Four-hundred fifty-nine feet of elevation gain over three and a half miles doesn’t seem like too much, but almost all of that climbing happens in less than a mile as Peralta Hills Trail heads towards Anaheim Hills Elementary School. The rest of the hike is comfortable and rolling, with one tricky descent down Mountain Goat Trail.

This full hike can only be done during the dry season, when there isn’t water flowing from the dam. The hike crosses Santiago Creek in two places that are impassible when water is flowing through the creek. However, even during the rainy season it’s still possible to do most of this hike, you’ll simply have to stay on the east side of the creek and head back up to the main creek crossing near the parking lot.

The trail starts out from the parking lot, crosses Santiago Creek and heads to the left along Santiago Creek Trail. The trail only goes for a short time until it curves to the right and meets up with Wilderness Trail. Take a right at Wilderness Trail and head back generally in the direction of the dam at the far end of the park.

Wilderness Trail is a nice, wide trail that’s generally flat and shaded. Enjoy this easy part of the hike, because it’s about to get a lot more difficult. Once you’ve gone about a third of a mile along Wilderness Trail you’ll come to a turnoff for Peralta Hills Trail to the left. From here, be prepared to start heading up.

Peralta Hills Trail runs from its junction with Wilderness Trail all the way up to Robbers Roost above Anaheim Hills elementary. In just about a mile, Peralta Hills Trail gains over 700 feet of elevation at an average grade over 10%. Just before my hike up the trail, it had been regraded and the trail surface was either slick rock or soft sand. This made hiking up the hill all the more difficult, because I slid backwards half a foot for each step forward I took. Of course, once some of the lighter dirt gets blown away and the trail gets re-compacted it will be much easier to hike up.
Thankfully, there is a nice reward for hiking up Peralta Hills Trails. The views from the top of the hill are gorgeous. You are able to see across all of Orange, Santa Ana, Newport Beach and all the way out to Catalina on a clear day. Once at the top of the hill, there is a nice area to sit on the ground and enjoy the view.

Once you’ve taken in the view, the trail continues towards Anaheim Hills Elementary School along a mostly flat route. As with many hillsides in Orange County, you’ll travel through mostly low open scrubland, so there is little shade along this part of the trail. As you approach Oak Trail, you’ll come to an old rusted out gate. I believe at one point this was the boundary of the park, but today the park extend to the junction of Peralta Hills Trail and Oak Trail.

At this gate is where I saw a coyote sniffing at some rabbit holes when I hiked through here. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a wild coyote. He was about 30 feet in front of me and at first didn’t notice my approach. I stopped to watch him for a bit, since he was standing on the shoulder of the trail and I wasn’t going to try to pass that close to him. I tried to get my camera out to take a picture, but by the time I had the camera up and zoomed in, he was darting across the trail and down the hillside.

Before you hit Oak Trail, you’re faced with one more short section of steep climbing. This climb is up mostly exposed rock and shoes will find easy purchase here. The only hard part is that it is quite steep.

Once the trail reaches Oak Trail you make another right and start to head away from Anaheim Hills Elementary School. Oak Trail follows the curve of the hillside and is relatively flat. Here you’ll find a large shade structure with picnic benches which make for a nice place to stop and enjoy the view.

Shortly past the picnic benches there is a locked vehicular access gate with a small foot path off to the left hand side. Continue past the gate until you reach a large intersection of trails. Stay to the left and you’ll find yourself on Bumble Bee Trail.

Bumble Bee Trail starts the decent back towards the main part of the Santiago Oaks with some switchbacks down the side of the hill. In the late afternoon, the hillside provides plenty of shade and it can start to feel a bit cool compared to the exposed trail up to this point. However, after the work of going up Peralta Hills Trail, Bumble Bee Trail can feel quite refreshing.

Bumble Bee Trail winds down the hillside into a little valley. At the bottom you’ll come to another trail branching off the your left, this is where both Yucca Ridge and Cactus Canyon Trails start, but you’ll pass these by and continue on Bumble Bee Trail. From here you’ll start a gentle climb up the hill on the other side of the valley you just descended into. Eventually, Bumble Bee Trail dead ends into Mountain Goat Trail, which you’ll take to the right.

There are two different paths you can take when you reach Mountain Goat Trail. The steeper and more rocky path has a sign that says it’s not for horses, while the other path has switchbacks and is a more gradual descent down the hillside. Of course, since I wasn’t riding horseback and I was going down, I chose the steeper path. About half way down I had the thought that I had picked the wrong way while carrying a baby, it’s that steep and difficult to maneuver down. However, I made it safely to the base of the hill. This was just as challenging as the hike up Peralta Hills Trail and way more fun.

Once at the bottom of the hill, you’ll find yourself at Santiago Creek Trail, which runs the length of the park back to the parking lot. If you wish to head back, you can go right and find yourself at your car in about five minutes. However, since there was no water flowing through the creek, I decided to go left, across the creek bed and explore the other bank, which I had never been to before.

Once across the creek, you’ll find yourself in a dirt parking lot in front of an older building. I have no idea what this parking lot or building are used for, I don’t even know if they are part of the park, private property or used by some other agency. Nor was it readily apparent how you would drive to this lot, but there it was.

On the far side of the dirt lot there is a trailhead to Pony Trail. Pony Trail was surprisingly nice, but relatively short. It cuts back across Santiago Creek so most of it is fairly rocky. It is covered in shade and quite lovely. Pony Trail dumps you back onto Santiago Creek Trail. Despite walking along Santiago Creek numerous times, I had never noticed the turnoff to Pony Trail, it’s quite well hidden.

Once back to Santiago Creek Trail, make a left and start heading back to the car. You can make a detour down Historic Dam Trail and cross the creek at this point if there isn’t too much water flowing. Historic Dam Trail is the most tranquil part of Santiago Oaks Regional Park and a wonderful place to end a hike.

If you’re looking to work on your climbing legs, this is a great short hike through Santiago Oaks Regional Park. The terrain and vegetation is quite varied and there is always something to look at. These steeper grades are also some of the only ways to get away from the busier parts of the park, which is a nice treat in itself. This hike is highly recommended for anybody looking for a challenge.

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Vital Stats
Trailhead contagion +silverado,+ca&aq=&sll=33.757564,-117.699709&sspn=0.019695,0.038624&vpsrc=0&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Jeffrey+Rd+%26+Limestone+Cyn+Rd,+Silverado,+California+92676&t=h&z=16″>Augustine Staging Area
Silverado, CA 92676
Length 7.60 Miles
Elevation 400 Feet
Difficulty Easy

Once a month, OC Parks and the Irvine Ranch Land Conservancy open Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park up for a Wilderness Access Day. Most of the time, Limestone Canyon is only open for limited guided tours, which anyone can sign up for through the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks Activities page. However, during the Wilderness Access Day, you’ll have free reign around any of the trails in Limestone Canyon.

The main draw of Limestone Canyon is a geological feature called The Sinks. The Sinks is a large canyon carved into the soft limestone hills that has been called The Grand Canyon of Orange County. Unfortunately, people are not allowed to climb down into The Sinks, but are only allowed to look at it from above due to their delicate nature.

The hike out to the sinks starts from the Augustine Staging Area, located just off Santiago Canyon Road north of Silverado Canyon Road on the west side of the road. During Wilderness Access Days, there will be public parking and check-in located at the Augustine Staging Area. There are normally a few hundred people who visit Limestone Canyon on these days, so expect a much larger production that you would normally find at a regional park.

The trailhead is at the southeast corner of the parking area from which a fire road heads south. The entire length of the trail is actually this fire road that circumnavigates the park. On the one hand, this is nice because it means the trail is wide and easy to navigate but it also feels less intimate with the surrounding nature. Also, the first mile or so of this fire road is covered with gravel which is somewhat uncomfortable to walk on, especially on the way back to the trailhead.
The trail winds its way through hills that were surprisingly green even late into the Southern California winter. It starts out generally paralleling  Santiago Canyon Road but quickly turns further south and soon a row of hills separates the road from the trail. As it does so, the trail crosses large meadows situated in the shallow valleys between the hills.

In one such valley there is a farm where native plants are grow for transplant throughout the park. One of the main plants that is grown are the slow growing oaks that are found throughout the Santa Ana Mountains. Because these trees grow so slowly and the farm is fairly new, the farm doesn’t look much like a traditional tree farm. At this point, you’ll see a number of rows of PVC pipe sticking out of the ground that protect the young trees and help with the irrigation.

Upon reaching The Sinks, you’ll find an observation platform off to the left side of the trail. This observation platform provides the best view possible of The Sinks and can be fairly crowded. You can normally find a park ranger stationed here at the the platform if you need any help or just have questions about the park. The rangers are not naturalists and often can’t answer any detailed questions about the formation of The Sinks or the plants, animals or other geological features of the park. However, they are normally willing to take take pictures of people standing in front of The Sinks.

The Sinks themselves are quite a dramatic striated cliff face. You can clearly see the rivulets carved by the wind and rain running down the face of the cliff. While it’s understandable why people would call this the Grand Canyon of Orange County, if you’ve been to the Grand Canyon you’ll be underwhelmed by The Sinks if you expect to see the Grand Canyon. However, if you visit The Sinks without that expectation and see it for what it is, you’ll see that The Sinks are beautiful and magnificent in their own, unique way.

The Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park Wilderness Access Days are a great opportunity to visit one of the most pristine natural areas in Orange County. The hike itself is very easy and feels almost flat throughout its entire length. The only thing that makes the hike slightly difficult its length at nearly eight miles. If you want to do this hike, I highly recommend starting as soon as the park opens at 9AM so you can be off the trail no later than 3PM when the park closes. This is especially true if you’re a novice or slow hiker.

This coming weekend, February 4th, 2012 is the next Wilderness Access Day at Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park. If you would like to visit this magnificent park you can sign up through the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.

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Published inLimestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch Wilderness ParkOrangeSilverado