“It’s a challenging day for a hike.”
That’s what our docent told us before we took off on a 3-mile trek. Indeed, the temperature was close to 90 degrees and it was 6 p.m.
Our concern, however, soon vanished, thanks to magnificent vistas and the tranquility of nature. The guided Twilight Hike was through Orchard Hills, at the western edge of the Santa Ana Mountains, just minutes from Portola Parkway and the Northwood community.
About a third of Irvine — including Orchard Hills, Quail Hill and Bommer Canyon — is permanently preserved for parks, trails and open space. As a result, residents have opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking.
Some even say it’s like having a national park in their backyard.
“I’ve lived in Irvine for many years, and I didn’t know about (Orchard Hills) until May of this year,” said Ahmad Khalife, 61, who was among the 13 hikers in our group. “Since then, I’ve been coming regularly. “I used to go to distant places to hike and backpack. Now I don’t have to do that. I drive five, seven minutes and I’m here.”
Our hike began at the staging area, where we could see homes across the street. But as soon as we entered the trail gate, we spotted a snake track on the narrow dirt trail.
After 10 minutes or so walking uphill, we were in the wilderness at the foot of Loma Ridge. The trail then descended into a valley of green trees — a rare scene in dry Southern California. I no longer suffered from the heat.
Joan Steiner, our docent, told us that the area is an oasis created by irrigation water.
The respite gave us enough energy to easily conquer a climb that skirts an orchard.
“A special part about Orchard Hills is it’s a wilderness area literally in our backyards,” Steiner said. “And we get to walk through the working avocado farm to a wildland area, just miles away from our home.”
Khalife said he’d spotted hawks, coyotes, owls and deer at Orchard Hills.
In less than an hour, we arrived at our turning point. We didn’t get to the top of the ridge, but we were up high enough to see the Irvine Spectrum Center Giant Wheel, Fashion Island and the Tustin hangars.
On clear days, you can see the Matterhorn at Disneyland, the coast, downtown Los Angeles and even the Hollywood sign with the naked eye, fellow hikers told me.
On our way back, Steiner showed us part of the trail she helped build. She is a volunteer with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, which hosted the tour and is tasked with looking after Irvine’s open spaces. You can have fun on the protected land and also help protect it.
“It’s nature’s gift to the Irvine residents, a way to work out after work and connect with nature,” Khalife said, as the sun began to set.
“You get the valleys, you get the hills, you get the mountains. You get different terrains than any other areas surrounding us.”
To sign up for activities in Irvine’s protected open spaces, visit letsgooutside.org.
Preservation and Stewardship
A full one-third of Irvine is permanently designated as protected open space In 1988, as part of Irvine’s master planning efforts, the city and Irvine Company developed the landmark Open Space Agreement. This first-of-its-kind pact ultimately led to the permanent preservation of over 57,000 acres of wilderness areas and natural ecosystems. Irvine Company has also contributed $50 million to ensure the long-term stewardship of these lands.