Peters Canyon Regional Park is centrally located in the city of Orange, near foothills of Tustin and Irvine. Because it’s located smack dab in the middle of Orange County, and because it actually has some decent hills with views extending to the coast, Peters Canyon is one of the more popular places to hike in OC. The trail described here is a lollipop-loop, returning along the original ridge that you hike out on. For an easier hike, or just to mix it up, you can alternatively hike the canyon trail rather than the ridge line.
Peters Canyon History
The land that is now Peters Canyon Regional Park was part of a Spanish land grant, Rancho Lomas de Santiago. In 1897, the rancho was purchased by James Irvine, who leased out the canyon to several farmers, including James Peters, who farmed in the upper part of the canyon.
To support Irvine Ranch’s water needs, two reservoirs were built within Peters Canyon. The upper one was completed in 1931 and the lower one in 1940. Both were used to regulate the Irvine Company’s water supply draft from Santiago Reservoir, known today as Irvine Lake. During World War II, Peters Canyon was used as a training area for the U.S. Army. Known as Camp Commander, it was established near the lower reservoir.
Hiking the Peters Canyon Loop
The official entrance to Peters Canyon is on the north side, with ample parking on a gravel lot for $3. This hike begins at the southern entrance, with free street parking. You could easily begin this loop from the north side — just review the map linked below for details.
After parking on Peters Canyon Road, you’ll see a sign for the trail at the end of the street. There is both a paved bike path as well as a well-groomed dirt trail at the beginning, winding around a catch basin (formerly Lower Peters Canyon Reservoir).
As you wind around the catch basin, you’ll bear right through an opening in the fence and up a hill covered in eucalyptus trees. Follow this up the hill to the ridge line.
The trail follows the ridge line parallel to the toll road. You may be able to hear the cars, but the tollroad itself is well-concealed by a berm, making this trail all the better.
This ridge line offers tremendous views, especially on a clear day. You can see the San Bernardino mountains to the east, and even Catalina Island to the southwest. No wonder this trail is popular!
Working your way down towards the lake, you’ll take the Willow Trail. During the winter months, it looks quite bare, but this grove of willow trees will require you to watch you head in places. Be sure to stay on the trail here; there are patches of poison oak, and you can pick it up even when there are no leaves.
When you emerge from the Willow trail, bear left and cross the main parking lot. The trail starts up again on the northwest side of the lot.
You make your way around the lake, up and over a pretty decent hill and back down into the canyon. At the junction of the Peters Canyon trail, you have a choice: return via the more rigorous ridge line trail or take the easier canyon trail? I chose the ridge line, but either trail will take you back to your starting point.
The views on this trail can be pretty awesome. It’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of suburbia.
Peters Canyon is a convenient trail with sweet views, fresh air and a great cardio workout, too! Go take a hike on this trail, and let me know what you think.
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About Peters Canyon Regional Park
Peters Canyon Regional Park is open from 7am to sunset, seven days a week. Like most parks in Orange County, it is closed for three days following rain. The trails are open to hikers, mountain bikes and equestrians, so plan accordingly. Street parking on Peters Canyon Road (the “back” entrance) is free, but read the signs to avoid a parking ticket. The park has paid parking for $3 on the north end (the “front” entrance).
Getting to the Trailhead
To get the “back” entrance used on this hike: From the 5 Freeway, exit Tustin Ranch Road and head towards the foothills. Drive approximately three miles. Get in the left hand lane and turn left on Pioneer Way. Get into the right lane and take the next right on Pioneer Road. This road will wind around Cedar Grove Park. Continue to the first stop sign and turn left on Peters Canyon Road. Take this road down around a little curve and park on the right side of the curb at the end of the road. There is a sign for Peter’s Canyon Trail at the end of the road. Pay attention to the “No Parking” signs, as tickets are issued frequently to those who park in that zone.
More Useful Peters Canyon Resources
- Official OC Parks web site
- Peters Canyon Regional Park Map (PDF)
- Mountain to Sea Trail Map (PDF)
- Want to hike this with others? Check the Meetup calendars for Hiking OC and OC Hiking. Both groups regularly schedule hikes on this trail.
Peters Canyon Weather Forecast
Friday 02/15 80%
Cloudy skies with periods of rain this afternoon. High 58F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 80%.
Saturday 02/16 0%
Sunshine and clouds mixed. High 59F. Winds WSW at 10 to 20 mph.
Sunday 02/17 50%
Chance of Rain
Rain showers early with some sunshine later in the day. High 52F. Winds WSW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 50%.
Monday 02/18 0%
Mainly sunny. High 58F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph.
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