Hike the Red Rock Canyon in Whiting Ranch
We love our local park system and try to get out and explore close to home in between our bigger road trips. The OC Parks system is very well maintained and offers so many opportunities to explore!
On a particularly grey and cloudy weekend, we decided to give the “little” Red Rock Canyon area a try. This canyon lies in the Whiting Ranch Park area, and is so easy to access. The parking lot is in Foothill Ranch, and while the trail will have subdivisions on both sides, you really don’t notice the “city” after you get going. OC Parks does a fantastic job of providing nature getaways in the middle of these crowded towns, and Whiting Ranch is one of those getaways. Park at the small parking lot, for a small fee, at 26701 Portola Parkway, Foothill Ranch, CA. This parking lot sits next to a large shopping center, but is is pretty small. An early start is the best way to get a spot, as these trails are pretty popular, especially on weekends. The parking was $3 in 2018, which is paid at a kiosk via cash or credit card.
This hike starts right off of the parking lot, and will be very straightforward. It’s a fairly straight, very well marked, out and back hike. It totals about 4.2 miles for the whole hike and took us just over 2 hours to complete, with lunch and some wandering around for photos!
The hike starts on Borrego Canyon Trail, which is the only trailhead from the small parking lot. The trail will lead through some beautiful grass and bushes. Despite the droughts of recent years, we saw some very green plants surrounding us. This trail is a one-way bike trail, so be cautious of bikes coming from behind. At about 1 mile, the trail becomes surrounded in a beautiful oak grove. After about 1.5 miles, a trail cuts off to the left. A sign indicates “Red Rock Canyon Trail”.
While this park is popular, we encountered only about four people on the entire way out to the canyon and back. The trail is for hikers only, and is just about 1 mile out. The ground quickly changes from sand and dirt to more of a red dirt and rock. It’s clear you’re entering a unique area. The trail meanders through a green, grassy area, but soon, the red rocks of the canyon will start to appear. The terrain begins to feel more like Nevada or Arizona, and less like the middle of Orange County. It traverses a small creek, which will probably be dry. Just follow the trail, and eventually, it drops you right at the base of the canyon. A sign will indicate that you’ve reached the end of the trail, but the amazing red rock walls and cliffs will be right in front of you.
As with most trails around Orange County, there are plenty of cacti and desert plants bordering the paths. We saw quite a few cacti in bloom, and the colors just add a fun pop to these desert scenes. If you look along the canyon walls, there will be lots of cacti popping out of rocks and cliff edges.
We found a spot to sit and enjoy a lunch break, and had the place all to ourselves for most of our time out there. It was a grey and cloudy day, and the sky was a little drippy at times. The grey skies complemented the red rocks so beautifully! And when it rained just enough to make the ground a little damp, the rocks really started to pop in color.
This isn’t one of the busy hikes around town, so it is a great escape to get out into nature. It really is a unique area that just struck as as amazing to find so close to home.
Trail Distance: 4.2 out and back
Time to Complete: 2-3 hours
Best Time: Early morning to find parking, or evening to get beautiful sunset colors
Differing geology and long views from the canyon, lots of cacti and plant life, some wildlife (including possible mountain lions, so stay alert)
The trail is an easy one to hike, and at just 4.2 miles, is a great place to go hiking in Orange County! Here are some more photos of this amazing trail: