A guide to the great outdoors

If you’ve hiked much in Southern California, you’re probably familiar with its two main habitats: coastal sage scrub in low-lying coastal regions and chaparral as you move inland into the foothills.

But did you know there are places where both habitats thrive side-by-side?

Baker Canyon, just east of Irvine Lake, is such a place, providing a rare opportunity to see a biodiversity hotspot up close and personal.

“In Baker Canyon, you have two completely different habitat types mixing together,” says Brian Hughes, who trains docents for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. “It’s a really pleasing experience to see this mosaic of shrubs and flowers of every size, shape and color – all on one hike.”

This diversity of habitat also attracts a diversity of wildlife, making Baker Canyon a birder’s paradise. Native birds (acorn woodpeckers, scrub jays and red-tailed hawks) – are plentiful year-round, while migratory birds visit each spring and fall.

Not only that, but Baker offers stunning vistas of Black Star Canyon’s Red Rocks – one of the most popular hiking destinations on The Irvine Ranch.

“The Red Rocks are so striking that many people feel they could only be seen in Arizona or Utah,” says Hughes, noting that the rock turns red due to iron deposits that rust with exposure to the atmosphere. “To experience this here in Orange County, they’re blown away.”

As far as spring wildflowers, mariposa lilies are prolific, as are poppies and purple lupines. When conditions are right, you can even see rare chocolate lilies adorning the north-facing hillsides.

Baker Canyon takes its name from a bit of Wild West history – named for Constable Charles Baker, who was killed there in an 1857 gunfight while pursuing a gang of outlaws.

Today, it is part of OC Parks’ Irvine Ranch Open Space, which includes 20,000 acres of wildlands that Irvine Company donated to the county in 2010. These sensitive lands, accessible through Irvine Ranch Conservancy-led guided tours, are part of 57,500 acres of open space on The Irvine Ranch – land set aside and managed in perpetuity for the benefit of the public.

Baker Canyon has it all, Hughes says – a diversity of plants, flowers, birds, terrain, trails and views – all so pristine that it’s been designated both a U.S. National and California State Landmark.

“It’s appealing on so many levels,” Hughes says. “We offer family hikes, long-distance hikes and cardio hikes. There are ridgeline views and intimate oak woodlands. And you’ll see a mix of healthy sage scrub and chaparral habitat unlike anywhere else.”

Visit letsgooutside.org to register for free programming offered by Irvine Ranch Conservancy.

SoCal’s two distinct habitats: Coastal sage and chaparral

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