Top hiking picks from OC conservationist

There has never been a better time to experience the vast open space preserves in and around Irvine.

There has never been a better time to experience the vast open space preserves in and around Irvine. Hikes are always better with a guide, so we asked Irvine Ranch Conservancy CEO Mike O’Connell to offer his perspective on the value of local open space and his personal picks on the preserves to visit and enjoy.

How has the rain helped the lands?

Winter rain usually kicks off the growing season. Plants take advantage of the moisture to grow and produce flowers, which are pollinated, creating the seeds that will make up the next generation of plants. Really wet weather, like we experienced this year, can trigger an explosion of growth and transformation, and we are sure to see an abundance of wildflowers on the land.

Why is this a great time to go explore?

I encourage everyone to go outside this spring and experience this amazing season while it lasts. Just like the plants, we should all take advantage of the wet weather and soak up the beauty it has created.

What preserves do you recommend?

I have five picks here that take you from the most rugged, remote areas within the Irvine Ranch Landmarks to convenient locations that are, perhaps, next door to your home.

Limestone Canyon

OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon is probably the most iconic location within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Home to the stunning geological formation known as “The Sinks,” as well as a large and healthy live oak woodland, this is the ideal place to explore Orange County’s natural history. You can visit this area by signing up for a guided activity or registering for Wilderness Access Day at

Weir Canyon

You can see one of the oldest and largest coast live oak woodlands in the county at OC Parks’ Weir Canyon in the northwest section of The Irvine Ranch. This canyon is filled with history, from the grinding stones Native Americans used to process acorn flour, to Robber’s Roost, where it has been reported that in the 1850s, Juan Flores’ gang would launch raids on wagon trains. We offer plenty of guided activities here. To learn more, visit

Bommer Canyon

If a friend were visiting from out of town, I’d take them to Bommer Canyon in the Irvine Southern Open Space Preserve. It has some of the most pristine coastal sage scrub habitat in the area and is open for self-guided access seven days a week. There is also a native plant garden by the historic Cattle Camp with information on the area’s history and importance of native plants. Bommer is easy to get to and a joy to explore.

Quail Hill

The grasslands of Quail Hill have turned green after winter rains, and wildflowers are springing up. You’ll find poppies, lupines and owl’s clover here this time of year. This is one of the most convenient locations to visit on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, just off I-405 in the heart of the city. It has a great 2-mile loop trail that is ideal for fitness activities, and you can even bring your dog with you, on a leash of course.

Fremont Canyon

OC Parks’ Fremont Canyon is one of the most rugged and remote areas within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks and is home to a wide range of native plants and animals. I love visiting Lizard Rock at the top of the canyon because of the magnificent views and abundant wildlife. Due to the strenuous nature of the terrain, be sure to check the difficulty level before signing up for a guided activity at