Which is closer: Zion or Orange County? For a quick red-rock fix, we vote for the OC. Namely, Red Rock Canyon in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park—a 4.2-mile (round-trip) out-and-back trek that gently gains 420 feet along Borrego Trail and Red Rock Canyon Trail.
The trailhead for this popular route (among mountain bikers as well as hikers) is clearly marked by a park monument. Follow Borrego Trail for 1.6 miles, then branch off onto Red Rock Canyon Trail for another half-mile. Once you’re on Red Rock Canyon Trail, the scenery quickly changes from the cool shade of coast live oaks to open views of dramatic sandstone ridges accented by chaparral prickly pear cactus.
As you trek along, keep an eye out for the blue streak of a California scrub jay flying through the trees, or look a little lower and see California goldenrods growing alongside the trail. When you arrive at the canyon you’ll think you’ve passed into a different dimension. Is this the Mojave? Utah? Nope, it’s Whiting Ranch—so close, and oh so brilliantly red.
To get to Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park from the I-5 near Lake Forest, take the Bake Pkwy. exit and head north for about 5 miles. Turn left on Portola Pkwy., then right on Market Pl. The parking lot is on the left. Parking is $3. No dogs.