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Get Hiking

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Rediscover nature and fitness with these local hikes.


Hike Off Your Thanksgiving Feast
Friday, Nov. 25, 2011, 9-11:30 AM
Why wait for the new year to start
getting fit? Start the day after
Thanksgiving with The Richard and
Donna O'Neill Conservancy's
post-turkey day hike – a three- to
four-mile hike up the North Ridge
trail, across Middle Ridge and down
into Gato Road. This is a moderate
to strenuous hike. $10 per adult;
$5 per child (six-18); free for
:: theconservancy.org

Southern California's lovely coast gets a lot of attention around summer, but come the colder months, it's the mountains we set our gazes upon.

Hiking is not only a fun way to get in shape, but also to rediscover the beauty of nature. And Orange County contains many trails within its borders to stimulate the body and senses. Trails.com and ocparks.com both have plenty of trail maps and descriptions available online for easy access. Here are some quick highlights, broken down by level of difficulty:


Holy Jim Falls Trail
Near Lake Forest
This trail is well shaded and leads to a 35-foot waterfall (depending on the season), which makes a great end to the hike. It’s only 2.7 miles roundtrip and is available year-round. There is a 620-foot elevation gain, so drink plenty of water and take a break if you feel tired or dizzy. The only inconvenience to this picturesque hike is the bumpy, rocky road leading up to the trail – so your car might take a beating.

Live Oak Trail
Near Lake Forest
This three-mile hike offers great views of the surrounding area. There is a slight 600-foot elevation gain to the summit and observation area, so be sure to take breaks as necessary. The trail is open year-round and takes hikers through the less-traveled and more scenic areas of O’Neill Park.

West Ridge and Oak Trail Loop
Near San Juan Capistrano
This 3.4-mile loop is ideal in the cooler seasons of fall, winter and spring, though it is open year-round. The trail offers beautiful vistas and a few short areas of steep climbing that are perfect for training for the longer, more strenuous hikes.


Juaneno-San Juan Creek Loop
Near San Juan Capistrano
The 6.5-mile trail winds through a variety of habitats from desert to meadow to woodland, climbing approximately 150 feet in elevation. The whole loop should take approximately three hours of nonstop hiking. This trail is also open year-round, but is most manageable in the cooler months of fall, winter and spring.

Arroyo Trabuco Trail
Near Lake Forest
This trail is 12 miles total and though that may sound intimidating, the trail is less strenuous than it sounds. The trail is more of a long walk with a slight 300-foot elevation gain. The trail parallels the creek, which affords a pleasant view as well as some shade. The approximate time it takes to complete the hike is six hours, so be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks and a nutritious lunch.


Chiquito Trail
Near San Juan Capistrano
This 9.2-mile trail climbs a total of 900 feet in elevation. This trail doesn’t hike to an end point or loop around, but travels from point to point along the canyon ridge and at the canyon’s bottom. Exploring the canyon from end to end heading downhill is recommended. The whole trip should take about five hours to complete. The trail is open from November to May and also allows bicyclists and those ever so enthusiastic dogs.

Gilman Peak
Near Brea
As one of the more difficult hikes, Gilman Peak Trail is seven miles total and has an elevation increase of 1,200 feet. This trail should take around four hours to complete. The view from the summit is well worth it. It is the second highest hill in Chino State Park, right after San Juan Hill. The trail is open from October to June and bicyclists are allowed on the trail, but not dogs, so be sure to pay attention to the rules and use proper trail etiquette and courtesy.

Emerald Canyon
Near Laguna Beach
This last, most difficult hike traverses 8.4 miles while climbing 1,400 feet in elevation. The canyon is accessed from the top, so interested hikers and bikers must descend into the canyon and backtrack to get out. Even so, this four-hour hike is as beautiful as the nearby El Moro Canyon and has the added benefit of being less crowded – due to the fact that the lower end of the canyon, adjacent to Laguna Beach’s streets, is fenced off. Another way hikers and bikers can enter and exit the canyon is through Old Emerald Trail. Be aware that this trail is somewhat longer than the newer, more popular trail and is unmaintained, so it is likely to be overgrown. Emerald Canyon trail is open from November to May and does not allow dogs, enthusiastic or otherwise.

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