A hike into the backcountry

Hawks soared overhead and bright, bushy California sunflowers dotted the trail in Weir Canyon during a recent 9-mile hike into The Irvine Ranch backcountry.

This docent-led hike into Weir Canyon starts just inside the entrance to Irvine Regional Park.

I’m hiking through the backcountry of Irvine, but I’m a million miles away in my mind.

Hawks soar overhead.

Gravel crunches underfoot.

Bright, bushy California sunflowers, pink mallow and yellow deerweed dot the side of the dirt path I’m traveling.

The sun is sinking in the clear blue sky, but it’s still warm, and I’m thankful for the sprawling coastal oak canopies shading the trail and the slight breeze blowing through the grasslands.

I’m in the Weir Canyon Nature Preserve, along with 10 others who have signed up for a late afternoon hike organized by OC Parks in conjunction with Irvine Ranch Conservancy.

Docents are accompanying us on this 9-mile trek, which rises 1,800 feet to the Overlook Trail, where we are promised sweeping sunset views as far as the Cleveland National Forest and Palos Verdes Peninsula, and then descends into an oak grove for the return trip.

Joining me on this adventure was a group of hikers who signed up at letsgooutside.org.

The hike is a level 4 out of 5, so everyone here is fit – and carrying lots of water. We’ve also been instructed to bring flashlights or wear headlamps, as we will be returning around 8:30 p.m., just after dark.

It’s 4 p.m. when we gather at the Outdoor Education Center parking lot just inside the entrance to Irvine Regional Park.

Before setting off, the park’s docents tell us to be on the lookout for red-tailed hawks and deer. Other denizens of the nature preserve include owls, raccoons and coyotes.

The docents assure us this is not a cardio hike, so we’ll be going at a leisurely pace. Still, my legs were burning by mile 1. But it was a good burn, with the scent of sage scrub and fresh air filling my lungs as I climbed toward an epic summit sunset, followed by a wonderfully sound night’s sleep.

Here I am checking out native animal species in Weir Canyon, including hawks, owls and deer.

Hikes on the Irvine Ranch

Each month, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy offers hundreds of docent-led and self-guided hikes throughout Irvine’s northern and southern open space preserves. Discover a hike that’s right for you and register for all hikes at letsgooutside.org/activities.