The Ramakrishna Monastery, perched on a foothill above Trabuco Canyon, accepts all religions as divinely inspired. For this reason, monks created the Shrine Trail, a mile-long loop around the monastery (open to the public) along which are erected altars honoring the world’s major religions.
The footpath rambles over grass hills thick with prickly pear cactus and into oak and eucalyptus groves. The first shrine is dedicated to Native American spirituality. Nearby is the shrine to Hinduism: a wooden gateway, topped with the Sanskrit symbol for “om,” framing grasslands and Upper Oso Reservoir to the south. You’ll continue clockwise along a loop before returning to the monastery’s main grounds.
Ring the bell, or ghanta, upon entering—a ritual said to invoke divinity and dispel negative energy. The original 1942 library remains intact with broad stone tile floors, a fireplace, statuettes of holy men, and many old volumes of books. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, once pored over pages of mystical literature here for his 1945 book The Perennial Philosophy. The octagonal shrine building, fronted with a cactus garden, offers a unique meditative experience. Remove your shoes and wade into the darkness. Incense burns and only a portrait of Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th-century Indian mystic for whom the order is named, is illuminated by candlelight at center. No matter your spiritual leanings, Ramakrishna is a place for deep introspection.
TIP: To extend your hike, park at O’Neill Regional Park, which borders Ramakrishna to the south, and follow Live Oak Trail north for roughly two miles to reach Monastery Road. You’ll get a good workout and pass a 360-degree vista point above Trabuco Canyon, dwarfed by Santiago Peak and the Saddleback Formation of the Santa Ana Mountains.
The monastery is at 19961 Live Oak Canyon Rd. in Trabuco Canyon, most easily reached via scenic Santiago Canyon. Take CA-55 to the Chapman Ave. East exit. Chapman becomes E. Santiago Canyon Rd. Follow it for about 11 miles, then turn left on Live Oak Canyon Rd. After two miles, turn right onto Monastery Rd., which climbs up to Ramakrishna. Visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Please follow the etiquette outlined on their website in order to help “maintain the spiritual atmosphere of the Monastery.” No dogs.