Get ready for a highlight reel of all that’s wild and wondrous in Southern California: This 11-mile (round-trip) loop hike in Orange County’s Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park showcases some of SoCal’s best in wilderness. Begin at a native plant garden featuring colorful interpretive signs, and follow paved Aliso Creek Trail, making a right at connecting Wood Canyon Trail. Hike among enchanting live oaks in riparian woodland before arriving at an expanse of serene grassy meadows. After about half a mile, take the Dripping Cave Trail to explore an ancient respite for Native Americans that was also a hideout for an infamous 19th-century band of robbers. After admiring this geological gem, continue onto Mathis Canyon Trail and veer left at the junction to traverse Car Wreck Trail, a challenging part-rock scramble ascent. Feel the burn, and halfway up when you round a corner discover an old Dodge sticking out of the shrub. At the next fork, you can opt for a panoramic, ocean-filled “top of the world” view (found to the left, at the dead-end). Otherwise, stay right towards the West Ridge Trail for 2 miles and gaze at the chaparral-covered rolling hills until eventually connecting with the Lynx Trail. You’re immediately rewarded with a descent into a heavily-shaded canyon dominated by oaks and sycamores along a tranquil creek. Watch out for scurrying quails as you follow Wood Canyon Trail and the connecting Aliso Creek Trail back to your starting point.
The park entrance is on Awma Rd., just west of Alicia Pkwy. in Laguna Niguel. $3 day-use parking. Pick up a map at the trailhead. This trail is well marked. Bikes allowed (note: Car Wreck Trail is extremely difficult and technical for even the most experienced mountain bikers). No dogs.