Getting to the Real California at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park


Orange County isn't all Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. The real California lurks in the foothills only 40 minutes away.

Credits: emperornorton

Deep in the golden brown back country near Foothill Ranch, California, you find a piece of Utah-esque red rock — a wrinkled canyon that turns red or pink or orange as the sun wills it. Few tourists make the trek to this anomaly, but local residents know it well and use the park around it for the opportunities it affords for mountain biking and hiking.

Credits: emperornorton

Miles of trails take you through all kinds of Southern California environments: chaparral, live oak woodland, grassland, barren rock, coastal sage scrub, and even a marsh. The routes range from easy to strenuous; from the leisurely Borrego Trail to the arduous road over the aptly named Dreaded Hill. Some trails like the East Mustard Road leading to Four Corners are overrun with trail bikers and joggers. Solitude can be found on the less visited West Mustard Road where a Vista Point gives you the finest view of Red Rock Canyon to be found in the park.

Credits: emperornorton

The thick live oak forests that line the bottoms of the canyons provide a pleasant respite from the heat on a summer’s afternoon. Bring sunscreen if you plan to climb the hills and ridges. The best season for wildflowers is March through June. You may find a vine bearing yellow coyote gourds in the summer and autumn months: leave these where you found them.

Credits: emperornorton

Whiting’s adventures are not limited to rubber tires and hiking shoes. More than once I have been surprised by mule deer prancing in the chaparral. Summer evenings bring out shiny black bombardier beetles and hairy tarantulas. I’ve nearly tripped over rabbits darting across my path. Once, I saw a mountain lion jump out in front of me. The same puma killed one mountain biker and mauled another just three months later, so I count myself very lucky.,

You’ll see burnt stumps and thinned vegetation that testify to the wildfire that burned through Whiting in 2008. But the land is coming back. Today, those signs are less apparent than they were three years ago when the park reopened.

Credits: emperornorton

Keep to a few rules when you visit:

Always wear a broad-brimmed hat. Carry water. Stay out of the cactus. Be sure that you don’t step on any rattlesnakes. Always hike the Billy Goat Trail downhill from Four Corners. Always hike from north to south on Dreaded Hill unless you are a marathon runner in peak condition. Bring a camera because Whiting — the face of the Real California — has many surprises for you.

Credits: emperornorton

For more information, visit:

written by emperornorton on 2013-09-17 in #world #locations #california #grass #mountain-biking #portola-hills #hiking #wilderness #chaparral #trails #escape-from-the-city #foothill-ranch #orange-county #forests


  1. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    WOOOOWWWW, awesome. Remind me of documentary series if I'm not mistaken the place name Adarondac. So peaceful. What about the Indian tribe, are they still live there?

  2. emperornorton
    emperornorton ·

    @hervinsyah The Adorondacks are on the other side of the country in New York State.

    The native peoples are still around, but as far as I know they are not organized as a tribe. I could be wrong. The white men know them as the Juaneño after the Franciscan mission at San Juan Capistrano.

  3. ksears119
    ksears119 ·

    Very descriptive article, both in words and photos! Mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas, yikes! Sounds exciting. Thanks for sharing.

  4. emperornorton
    emperornorton ·

    @ksears119 I distrust the bombardier beetles more than I trust the tarantulas. My dog agrees, having stuck his nose too close to the business end once. He would rather snort other things. Thanks for your comment. :)

  5. emperornorton
    emperornorton ·

    @ksears119 That should have indicated that I trust the tarantulas more than the bombardier beetles. :)

  6. af-capture
    af-capture ·

    great read and very nice pics: if i may i would like to add to the "Keep to a few rules when you visit:"...please don't leave any trash when you hike...don’t burn, bury, or leave litter or extra food - ”Pack it in, Pack it out.” thanks...i just posted an album on Mt Balday...thanks again for the read

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