Bell of the Ball

Known for its vast open space and rugged canyon, Caspers Wilderness Park is also home to some of South Orange…

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Known for its vast open space and rugged canyon, Caspers Wilderness Park is also home to some of South Orange County’s best mountain bike trails. In fall the colorful foliage is a big attraction; oaks drop their leaves beneath your tires, and the sycamores have turned burnt gold. One of the best ways to get high and low views of this 8,000-acre beauty is via the East Ridge-Bell Canyon Loop, a 6.7-mile (round-trip) rolling ride. Hop on your two-wheeler and get warmed up on the East Ridge Trail, an undulating fire road that delivers an overview of the park, plus panoramas of the Santa Ana Mountains. Manzanitas, sage, and prickly pear cactus decorate the trail until the point of no return: a steep (280 feet in 1/3 of a mile) and rutted descent into Bell Canyon. Novices may want to walk this part, but the going gets easier lower down where the trail is pristinely maintained just in time for a pleasant pedal over a shaded creekside trail down Bell Canyon to complete the loop. 
Take I 5 to the Ortega Highway (CA 74) exit in San Juan Capistrano and proceed inland for 7.5 miles to the entrance for Caspers Wilderness Park. Turn left into the park, pay a day-use fee ($3 weekdays, $5 weekends), pick up a trail map, and go 1 1/3 miles to the parking area next to the historic windmill. Bike 2/3 of mile back down the road to East Ridge Trail (across from the bathrooms). Turn left and head up the trail for 2.9 miles, staying to the right at a Y with Sunrise Trail that comes on a descent at mile 1.9. Take a sharp left at the end of the ridge, dropping a third of a mile to Cougar Pass Trail. Turn right, bike a quarter-mile to Oso Trail and turn left. Reach Bell Canyon Trail after 2/3 of a mile, turn left, and head down the canyon for 2 miles to return to the trailhead. No dogs.

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