Dripping History

Hike to Dripping Cave in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

Historical hideout, hidden hollow, rustlers’ retreat. Whatever you want to call Dripping Cave in Laguna Nigel, it is truly a cool, compelling cavern. To reach the grandiose grotto, take a 5-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, a 4,500-acre public sanctuary in Orange County.

Park at the visitor center and explore the brief native-flora loop as you stretch your legs before heading west on the Aliso Creek Trail. The paved path is open to bikers as well (our wheeled friends can ride almost all the way to the cave) as it gradually descends into the canyon along the creek bed, surrounded by rolling hills and interpretive signs.

Look out for mule deer who bound among the sage, and blooming purple artichoke plants rising from the meadows. Note that there is very little shade for the first 1.5 miles, so start early or bring protection. The junction for Wood Canyon Trail comes at a portable toilet and picnic area among towering gnarly oaks, a common sight for the remainder of the trek.

Dripping Cave Hike Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

Turn right and continue north until you reach a junction notating Cave Rock on your left. Take this for a brief detour to your first accessible cave, a sandstone cavity along the hillside. Head back to the trail and continue north until the next junction—the path to Dripping Cave and the spot to leave your bikes if you brought them.

Gallery image 1 of 14
Gallery image 2 of 14
Gallery image 3 of 14
Gallery image 4 of 14
Gallery image 5 of 14
Gallery image 6 of 14
Gallery image 7 of 14
Gallery image 8 of 14
Gallery image 9 of 14
Gallery image 10 of 14
Gallery image 11 of 14
Gallery image 12 of 14
Gallery image 13 of 14
Gallery image 14 of 14

Legend has it that 19th-century livestock thieves used this natural chamber as a hideout. You’ll see remnants of holes in the sandstone roof used for pegs to hold supplies. It’s easy to conjure images of the cave’s onetime nefarious dwellers. Today, the geological sanctuary is a perfect way to steal away from the sun and city life. When it’s time to return to the present, head back to Wood Canyon Trail, stopping at the short boardwalk over the babbling stream before trekking the 2.5 miles back to the visitor center and parking lot.

To get to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park visitor center and parking lot, take the I-5 to the Alicia Pkwy. exit heading west. After nearly 4 miles, turn right onto Awma Rd., following signs for the park. Street parking (free) lines the road, and the lot (fee) and trailhead are just ahead on your left. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Pinnacles of Spring

    Why hike at Pinnacles National Park? The wildflowers are in overdrive during spring. And you might spy the magnificent California condor soaring while you gain soaring views from the High Peaks Trail.

  2. Image that represents the story

    Do it Yourself Walking Tour of Solvang

    Solvang has long been described as a “little slice of Denmark in Southern California." Experience the historic village on a 3-mile walk that explores the architecture, food, wine, and green space.

  3. Image that represents the story

    Truly Grand Day Hike

    One of the best spring day hikes in the Grand Canyon? See layer upon layer of the park’s grandeur—including the river—on this 3-mile (one-way) journey to Skeleton Point via the South Kaibab Trail.

  4. Image that represents the story

    Garden of the Gods

    A 1-mile out-and-back trail in 23-acre Garden of the Gods threads through sandstone boulders that were natural icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age, back when this site was known as the Iverson Movie Ranch.


Trending Stories Northern CA

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Wildflower Hiking Guide

    California’s wildflowers will be lovely this spring! So how do you find the best in bloom? Check out POST’s complimentary Wildflower Guide to find the best hiking trails with wildflowers.

  2. Image that represents the story

    Moore Wildflowers!

    Napa's got poppies on parade! Hike the 4.3-mile Valentine Vista Trail at Moore Creek Park. It's spectacular for views, and the spring wildflowers are a colorful bonus!

  3. Image that represents the story

    Tam It All

    The hills have gone green just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and this 7.5-mile lollipop loop hike passes through some of Mount Tam’s lushest spots, with bridges, creeks, a waterfall, and big views.

  4. Image that represents the story

    Footloose in the Foothills

    In spring, Diablo Foothills Regional Park bursts with green rolling hills, wildflowers, and some of the lushest views of Mount Diablo itself. Go on an 8-mile loop among this verdant scenery.