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Hiking to Orange County’s ‘Grand Canyon’

There are hidden gems in Orange County you cannot discover just driving on city streets.

There are hidden gems in Orange County you cannot discover just driving on city streets.

The Sinks – a geological formation consisting of layered sandstone cliffs and known by many as Orange County’s mini Grand Canyon – is one of them.

I recently joined a 10-mile morning hiking tour to the East Sinks Viewing Deck, which offers sweeping views of The Sinks, as well as Irvine and even Catalina Island on clear days.

The Sinks sits in Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve, a short drive northeast of Irvine. It’s part of the 57,000 acres of open space on the historic Irvine Ranch.

“We are blessed to have this in our backyard,” said Joan Steiner, our docent.

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy offers guided hikes and other activities on permanently preserved open space on the historic Irvine Ranch.

The hike started at 7 a.m. at the Augustine Staging Area off of Santiago Canyon Road near Irvine Lake. We quickly spotted mule deer near the staging area.

Limestone Canyon is also a habitat for raccoons, squirrels, snakes, gray foxes, bobcats and rabbits.

It was still foggy, and we couldn’t see the end of a dirt trail that meandered through a canyon, up to a ridge and into oak groves.

As we approached The Sinks, the fog began to clear. The sun appeared, and so did the peaks of the Santa Ana Mountains beneath it.

After about 1 1⁄2 hours of hiking, we arrived at our destination, the viewing deck that opened just two years ago.

A panoramic view of pale brown cliffs with blue sky as a backdrop created a perfect setting for Instagram photos. I’ve seen The Sinks before, but this natural wonder, formed over millions of years, presents itself differently each time.

“It’s a treasure, and it’s preserved for us and for our future generations forever,” Steiner said.

To sign up for free activities in Irvine’s protected open spaces, visit letsgooutside.org.


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