|Trailhead||2145 N. Windes Drive
Orange, CA 92869
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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