Our top 20 hikes for 2022 start with these 11 in Irvine’s Southern Open Space Preserve.

In spring, Irvine’s preserved open space puts on a dazzling display of pure beauty you won’t want to miss. To guide your adventures, this special insert offers tips on 20 trails to explore along with lessons on how to become a wildflower expert on your next hike.
Click to view the Irvine Open Space Guide.

1. Quail Hill Loop Trail

• 1.8 miles round trip

• 141-foot elevation gain
• Leashed dogs allowed

Quail Hill’s gentle slope makes it a favorite for families, joggers and dog owners. No trail map is needed. Just follow the loop. In the spring, look for purple lupines and orange poppies within the grasslands. Watch for birds of prey, including northern harriers and white-tailed kites.

Quail Hill Preserve

2. Bommer Meadow

• 2 miles round trip
• Family-friendly
• Wildflowers in spring

Consider Bommer Meadow your warm-up to longer hikes deep into the 4,000-acre Bommer Canyon (some hikes take you clear to the ocean). This relaxing loop trail meanders through native grasslands. In the spring, California poppy, wild hyacinth, indian paintbrush and tidy tips burst into bloom.

Charlene Pfeifer, Irvine resident and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, enjoys jogging in Bommer Meadow.

3. Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Loop

• 6.2 miles round trip
• 1,033-foot elevation gain
• Pristine coastal canyon

Explore some of Southern California’s pristine and rare coastal canyons in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. There you’ll find 7,000 acres of coastal sage scrub-clad hills, grasslands and woodlands. Staff and volunteers at Nix Nature Center (Little Sycamore Canyon) can help plan your hike.

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

4. El Moro Canyon Trail

• 2.9 miles round trip
• 800-foot elevation gain
• A hike from the beach

This takes you from the famous Crystal Cove State Beach into El Moro Canyon, where you’ll encounter coastal chaparral, grasslands and coastal sage scrub. Also take the Poles Trail to finish your trek with panoramic ocean views. Don’t forget to enjoy the beach: Look at the tide pools and stroll past the historic cottages.

5. Quail Trail

• 8.1 miles round trip
• 1,700-foot elevation gain
• “OC’s No. 1 Trail”

Ranked “OC’s No. 1 Trail” by Vacation Idea, an online magazine, this trail connects Irvine to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. It traverses the San Joaquin Hills, a low-lying coast range featuring coastal sage scrub, grasslands, woodlands and seasonal streams. Following abundant winter rainfall, wildflowers along the trail can be spectacular.

6. Ridge Route Loop

• 3 miles round trip
• 700-foot elevation gain
• A relic of Irvine’s ranching past

This hike starts at the Cattle Camp, an Old West setting where ranch hands once rounded up cattle on The Irvine Ranch. Now it’s part of the largest urban open-space network in America. You’ll be treated to towering 100-year-old sycamores, grasslands and view-inspiring ridgelines, as well as relics from the site’s ranching past. *

7. Buck Gully Trail

• 5 miles round trip
• 446-foot elevation gain
• Four wildlife viewing platforms

Hike down a 1,200-acre coastal canyon in the San Joaquin foothills. Look for vines, shrubs and trees that take advantage of a year-round stream. Hikers are treated to wildflowers such as monkey flower, wild rose and wild pea. Four bridges serve as viewing platforms to watch for wildlife around the stream.

8. Bommer Canyon to Crystal Cove

• 14 miles round trip
• 2,400-foot elevation gain
• See a national treasure

This adventure exemplifies the stunning diversity of The Irvine Ranch, designated a Natural Landmark by both the State of California and U.S. Department of the Interior. The moderately strenuous hike stretches from interior coastal hills to the coast, all while offering sweeping views of open space and open water.

9. Barbara’s Lake Trail

• 3 miles round trip
• 480-foot elevation gain
• OC’s only natural lake

Located on the south side of Laguna Canyon Road, Barbara’s Lake is accessed via a loop trail that starts at Nix Nature Center (Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park) and passes through Little Sycamore Canyon and under the road. With winter rain, the lake fills to a level that attracts northern shovelers, ruddy ducks and other waterfowl. Later in spring, Pacific tree frogs announce their presence.

10. San Joaquin Marsh

• 12 miles of trails
• Family-friendly
• A birder’s paradise

Located close to the UC Irvine campus, the San Joaquin Marsh is a “bed and breakfast” for 320 species of bird that stop there during annual migrations or live there year-round. Enjoy 12 miles of trails, close-up viewing of six ponds and bird-watching within 150 acres lined with willows and cottonwoods. Bring binoculars and cellphone (to navigate).

11. Shady Canyon Trail

• 8 miles round trip
• Family-friendly
• Leashed dogs allowed

The Trust for Public Land named Irvine’s parks and open space among the top 10 in America, and you’ll see why with a walk along this trail. It features two parallel trails (one paved, one decomposed granite), several pedestrian bridges and views of the San Gabriel and Santa Ana mountains.


12. Loma Ridge Loop

• 11 miles round trip
• 1,200-foot elevation gain
• Worth the effort

Take in wonderful views of Irvine Lake and the Santa Ana Mountains as you walk, run, mountain bike or ride a horse along Loma Ridge in Limestone Canyon. The route winds through rolling hills and wide canyons. *

13. Dripping Springs

• 7 miles round trip
• 800-foot elevation gain
• Visit a year-round spring

Large trees cast shade on this trail, which leads to a beautiful grotto featuring one of two permanent springs in Limestone Canyon. Hike the loop trail with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy to see this sensitive oasis. The small pool is surrounded by ferns, live oaks and even a native orchid. *

14. Weir Canyon Trail

• 3.8 miles round trip
• 640-foot elevation gain
• Rugged mountain wilderness

Hikers on this loop trail are often treated to beautiful vistas, spring wildflowers and wildlife sightings. The primary trailhead is at the corner of Hidden Canyon Road and Overlook Terrace in a residential area at the northeast end of Santiago Oaks Regional Park. Enjoy views of Weir Canyon’s woodlands backed by the Santa Ana Mountains as you engage in several hill workouts along the trail.

Weir Canyon Trail

15. Red Rocks Trail

• 3.5 miles round trip
• 250-foot elevation gain
• Stunning photos

Come face-to-face with one of OC’s most striking geologic landmarks: the Red Rocks in Black Star Canyon. Formed of sandstone and mudstone, these towering pinnacles date back 40-20 million years. Irvine Ranch Conservancy offers many interpretive hikes along this trail, including family hikes and full-moon walks. *

Black Star Canyon

16. Orchard Hills Loop Trail

• 3 miles round trip
• 800-foot elevation change
• Ridgetop views of city

This trail meanders past a working avocado orchard at the foot of Loma Ridge and, like other trails, offers rich wildlife-watching opportunities along the way. Irvine Ranch Conservancy offers several docent-led hikes, including night hikes, on this trail, some of which will get your heart pumping. “It’s a wilderness area in our backyards,” IRC docent Joan Steiner says. *

17. East Ridge Loop

• 4 miles round trip
• 480′ elevation gain
• Hike past a 55-acre lake

Hikers on this loop trail in Peters Canyon Regional Park will pass by coastal sage scrub, grasslands and a large reservoir that in wet years holds water. Edges of both the reservoir and Peters Canyon Creek are lined with black willows, sycamores and cottonwoods. From the highest point on East Ridge View Trail enjoy a panoramic vista of mountains, city skylines and ocean.

18. Fremont Canyon

• 6 miles round trip
• 1,200-foot elevation gain
• “Yosemite of Orange County”

Enjoy picturesque rock formations, caves and ridgelines that offer sweeping views of Orange County, downtown Los Angeles and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. This takes you from the mouth of Fremont Canyon, past a historic coal mine to the Fremont Weather Station. *

19. Baker Canyon Loop

• 3 miles round trip
• Gradual but significant climb
• See two distinct habitats

Enjoy views of Red Rock Canyon, Irvine Lake and the ridges of Fremont Canyon. But remember to look down. You’ll see two distinct habitats – coastal sage scrub and chaparral – mixing together, a rare sight. “That diversity is different than anywhere else,” says Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) Interpretive Activities Manager Brian Hughes. *

20. The Sinks

• 10 miles round trip
• 1,300-foot elevation gain
• Irvine’s “mini-Grand Canyon”

A journey through meadows, oak woodlands and year-round springs brings you to the edge of Irvine’s “Miniature Grand Canyon,” known as The Sinks. This steep gorge was created by an ancient landslide. The east viewing deck offers expansive views of the sandstone cliffs, while the west viewing deck yields better views of the canyon below. *

The Sinks

*Registration is required at letsgooutside.org/activities.