Hike To Barbara Lake (Laguna Coast Wilderness)
Orange County has several lakes, which serve as reservoirs, but only one naturally occurring lake. This natural lake sits right in the midst of Laguna Coast Wilderness and is easily accessible for hikers, and more importantly, for lots of wildlife. We hiked to this lake in 2015, just after moving to California, and we were confused about why we couldn't find the lake. We hiked all around, but never found any water. That would be courtesy of the long drought that California had been enduring. The hike just took us out to dirt and more dirt.
Finally, California had a very wet winter, and the rain of late 2016 and early 2017 brought this lake back to life. We knew we had to re-live this short hike to go see a lake that had been gone for several years, but suddenly, came back to life.
The hike travels along dirt paths, with brush and cacti in abundance on all sides. This hike is follows typical Laguna Canyon terrain. If you pay attention though, you can find cacti in bloom, lizards scurrying about, and any mix of wildlife and sounds.
Our track started at the James Dilley Preserve parking area. There is a $3 fee for parking here (credit cards accepted in a machine), and the hours are 8am to 5pm. We started our hike around mid-day, on a nice southern California day. After signing in at the the trailhead, we started following Canyon Trail. This is a narrow trail with some steeper sections. This connects with Mariposa, Gravel, and Edison - we chose to follow Gravel trail. Gravel trail is a wider and (as advertised) gravel trail. There are tall walls of cacti and greenery along one side, and an open view of the Preserve below on the other side. When we met the Edison and Lake trails, we took a right and joined Edison trail to walk right alongside the lake.
The lake was almost entirely full on our visit. Several ducks were out enjoying an afternoon swim and the water was a beautiful shade of blue. Having done this hike about three years prior, we were somewhat stunned all along the trail at the difference our wet winter had made. This park was brown and mostly dirt and dead plants back on our first visit. But this time, we were surrounded by green and cacti and plants, and then this large lake. It's a wonderful thing to see California getting a break from the long drought it has been enduring, and it seems certain that the plants and wildlife are enjoying this change.
To get back to our starting point, we turned back on Edison and continued as it became Lake Trail. This led us right back to the parking area. Our track covered 2.9 miles according to Google Maps, but 3.2 according to our tracking. We do tend to wander around a bit... If you want a shorter, easier hike, just follow Lake Trail right out to the lake and then back to your car. You can also add effort and length, if you take Edison rather than Gravel.
We worked up a sweat, even on a nice afternoon, and were happy to have had a chance to see this lake in a healthy state!