People in LA always complain that, other than Disneyland, there’s just nothing to do in Orange County. These people are, of course, wrong: in addition to a host of incredible restaurants, OC offers some of the best hiking opportunities in the state. This massive region is home to hundreds of incredibly underrated trails that traverse its steep mountains, rolling hills, and canyons -- ranging from well-manicured, family-friendly strolls deep in the suburbs to beach-adjacent nature walks with stunning coastline views, and one particularly strenuous waterfall expedition in the Santa Ana Mountains. And if you’ve checked every single one of these treks off your list, well, Mickey’s just around the corner.
Huntington Beach This mostly flat trek through the wetlands is a tranquil nature walk masquerading as a hike. You’ll get fresh air, pretty ocean views, and the opportunity to spot birds (more than 200 species have been identified there!) and other wildlife.
Irvine Located in the City of Irvine’s vast Open Space Preserve, which is more than 5,200 acres, the relatively easy 2-mile Quail Hill Loop is a refreshing escape from strip-mall suburbia/a quail-free world. And if you want a little narration with your hike, there’s a self-guided cell phone audio tour (dial 949-743-5943) to hear natural resource interpreters and researchers call out interesting details along the way.
Irvine One of the best parts of this local gem, tucked away in a residential area of Irvine, is that it’s easily accessible. ANNNNNNND after 2.5 miles of huffing and puffing your way through a combination of ascents and descents, you’ll get a nice view of Irvine at the top.
Laguna Beach For a picturesque 3-mile hike that deposits you at Moro Beach, head to Crystal Cove State Park. If you feel like exerting yourself more, you can prolong the hike by exploring the canyon and nearby ridges before heading down to the surf and sand.
Newport Beach The main route around Newport Back Bay is long -- about 10.5 miles -- but mostly even and level. Be sure to kick off your journey at the Vista Point Lookout to snag the best views, although the entire hike will be incredibly scenic with opportunities to stop at various educational facilities (especially fun for little ones), like the Newport Aquatic Center, the Back Bay Science Center, and the Mariners Park and Library.
Laguna Beach This 2.5-mile hike in the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park is good for a quickie. On a clear day, the sweeping 360-degree view at the top displays Catalina Island to the west and the San Gabriel Mountains to the north. (If you’re willing to risk judgmental stares, you can also cheat by driving to the top and parking there.)
Laguna Beach For a hike that’s challenging but won’t leave you completely screwed the next day, try this 9-mile expedition through the undeveloped Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The uphill climb is grueling, and you’re exposed to the sun the entire time, but the worthwhile reward is a view of palm tree-dotted Laguna Beach.
Orange County This remote canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains boasts a waterfall, which makes this 6.8-mile trail totally worth it. It’s deceivingly easy at first, thanks to a minimal incline, then quickly becomes rugged, rocky, and tricky to navigate. Legend says the canyon is haunted, so hike at your own risk.
Lake Forest A little over 4 miles, this hike in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park takes you through an Instagram-friendly red sandstone canyon -- especially photogenic in the evening. Go right when the sun is setting and you’ll feel more like you’re in Sedona than OC.
Trabuco Canyon The good news about this ass-kicking 15-mile hike to the tallest point of the Santa Ana Mountains? You can see your goal -- the top of the mountain -- for most of your journey. The bad news? Be prepared to struggle for nine hours on the way, unless you’re in tip-top shape.
Tustin This five-mile loop in Peters Canyon Regional Park is just a few miles away from The Market Place, but its 340 acres of sage scrub, freshwater marsh, and grassland -- which is home to mule deer, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, and the occasional mountain lion -- feels a world away.
Corona You’ve got options here. There’s the well-shaded Tin Mine Trail, which boasts some gated, slightly eerie mine shafts you can peek into; the steady climb up to the Doppler Tower, a golf ball-shaped radar tower; and the Hagador Canyon Watershed Trail.
Newport Beach Encircled by homes and the famous Pelican Hills Golf Course, this little-known trailhead nestled in a Newport coastal canyon is a relatively quick, easy-to-moderate hike. It’s perfect for when you want a dose of nature (wildflowers, a river, foliage, and a view of the Pacific at the top) without a serious trek.
Silverado Fair warning: this strenuous trail isn’t for beginners. But, if you’re able to tough it out for the 5+ miles -- which includes boulder-hopping, avoiding poison oak, and navigating rough, unmarked terrain -- a majestic waterfall awaits you. Can’t make it all the way? Don’t worry, because halfway through you’ll find equally cool, crystal-clear pools of water at the base of the canyon.
Trabuco Canyon If you’re not into mobbed trails, try Modjeska: Santiago Peak’s less-crowded little sister. At nearly 5,500 feet tall, it might be the second-tallest point in the Santa Ana Mountains, but this vantage point arguably offers fewer obstructions for a full, 360-degree view.
Anaheim This 58-acre park in Anaheim features four miles of hiking trails and routes for everyone in the family -- some are tranquil and kid-friendly, and others, like Roadrunner Ridge, are steep, unshaded, and dotted with cacti.
San Juan Capistrano This 10-mile journey through the 8,000-acre Caspers Wilderness Park deposits you at a natural hot springs with an interesting history. In the 1870s, the springs served as a resort and tourist attraction before being shut down in the 1930s. Since then it’s opened and closed again. Now you can hike and see the remnants of the springs (right by the fire station on Ortega Highway), but actually going in isn’t recommended -- possibly not even allowed. But don’t worry: You’ll enjoy incredible views along the way.
Lake Elsinore This 10-mile trail -- which brings you to a point that’s 3,273 feet above sea level with majestic views of the Cleveland National Forest (and even the Pacific Ocean on clear days) -- straddles the border of Orange County and Riverside County. The first half is relatively easy, but be prepared for a slightly harder (and steeper) second half, where you might need to use your arms to help with balance. Pro tip: Go for a sunrise hike, where the 360-degree mountain vistas are even more stunning.
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Tiffany Tse is a freelance writer for Thrillist and only goes hiking for the bragging rights (and occasionally, the view). Follow her: @twinksy.