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Let's Hike: Laurel & Willow Canyon

Let's Hike: Laurel & Willow Canyon

We chose this short loop trail on a warm weekend in October when Kim's parents were in town. We wanted to take a hike, but needed something a bit more on the easy to moderate scale.  This was a gem, in my opinion. The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is full of trails of varying difficulties. It's strange to be so close to home, so close to crowded Orange County, yet to be seemingly lost in the wilderness. It's a lovely little retreat from the noise and traffic - though sometimes you can still hear some traffic noise. 

We hiked the Laurel Canyon Loop to Willow Canyon. We parked at the Willow Canyon Staging Area, which has a $3 (weekday) or $5 (weekend) price tag. It's a small lot, but it was mostly empty at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon. They close the lots at 5:00pm, so be prepared to get back to your car. We didn't make it back by 5, but the closed gate was unlocked and we had a friendly warning to leave on time next time.

The trail starts right out of the parking lot, and you head up to the right onto Laurel Canyon Trail. This trail offers a good deal of shade as it winds it's way around the canyon. You'll pass by some big sandstone rocks laying about, and then wander through some open fields with interesting cave formations on the sides. Keep your eyes up and around as the caves and rocks are all quite interesting along the first portion of this trail.

After a short distance walking through meadows, you enter a covered woodland. Trees provide great shade and a sense of solitude that is rare in Orange County. You'll pass the Stage Coach trail on the right about a half mile into this hike. Keep going straight just over another half mile, and you'll come to a junction. Cut left to continue down on Willow Canyon Trail. If you have a few extra minutes, cut right and go take a look over Bommer Ridge. We missed this opputunity our first time out, but will be visiting again to take a look. 

Once you are on Willow Canyon, which is basically a fire road, just continue until you eventually land in the parking lot where you started. This portion of the trail has some great views of mountains, and of the canyon your just hiked around. Be prepared for some steep descents, and watch out for bikes speeding by. Still, keep your eyes up and look around. 

While this is a short hike, it provides a variety of views - from mountains in the distance, to canyons nearby, to caves and meadows. You may sneak a peak of the ocean, Old Saddleback, the Santa Ana Mountains, the trail you just climbed, and more.

We opted to pack light for this shorter hike, taking only 18 liter packs. Including a new REI Flash 18, which we'll review a little later. For cameras, we packed a Canon AE1 and a Nikon LiteTouch (point and shoot). The photos for this post are all film - Kodak Ektar from the AE1 and Kodak TMax100 from the LiteTouch. 


  • The parking lot takes cash or credit card.
  • This trail was about 3.5 miles long and took about 2 hours to complete.
  • There are lots of mountain bikers around these trails, so pay attention for them coming up quick on single track paths.
  • While the elevation is moderate, be prepared for some hills ascending Laurel Canyon trail and descending (rather steep at times) Willow Canyon trail. Nothing severe, but wear good shoes.
Pick A Pack: REI Flash 18

Pick A Pack: REI Flash 18

Trail Essentials: Bug Defense

Trail Essentials: Bug Defense