Few people know that Orange County is actually home to several natural lakes. Most “lakes” are actually man-made reservoirs, but the Laguna Lakes in Laguna Canyon are the real deal, and Barbara’s Lake is the largest in the chain.
This moderate hike in Laguna Canyon’s James Dilley Preserve gives you a glimpse into a rare wilderness island in a sea of suburbia. In the canyon, you step back in time where the hills, lakes and landscape hasn’t changed much over the years.
Getting to the James Dilley Preserve
The James Dilley Preserve is a part of the Laguna Canyon Wilderness, and is located off of Laguna Canyon Road just north of Highway 73. There is a small gravel parking lot with a $3 parking fee. You can lookup turn-by-turn directions here on Google Maps.
There are a number of trails that criss-cross the preserve. We wanted a decent climb with some views. That meant only one thing. Heading up the steep Blackjack Trail to the ridge line.
We started out on the gentle Canyon Trail. This follows the bottom of the canyon all the way to the end, but we would not be taking that route for long. About 0.25 miles in we reached the Blackjack Trail heading nearly straight up the hill to our right. That was our route.
The Blackjack Trail is steep, but not long. Once you reach the top, you’ve already covered most of the elevation gain for this loop.
Looking back down the Blackjack Trail, the views of Laguna Canyon begin to open up.
The next mile you follow the ridge line toward the north. You are traveling along the eastern border of the preserve. To your left is Laguna Canyon. To your right, you have the suburban sprawl known as Aliso Viejo.
At the 0.92 mile mark, you reach a junction with the Woods End Trail. This climbs up the hill from El Toro Road, and is another entrance point to the park. It’s steep, but convenient for folks living in the area.
At 1.34 miles, the trail splits in two. To the left is the Gravel Trail, which heads directly down to the canyon. Stick to the right, on the Edison Trail — apparently so-named because of the power lines looming above. The Edison Trail also descends into the valley, but takes you right past the largest natural lake in Orange County – Barbara’s Lake.
The trail continues along the east side of Barbara’s Lake, then connects with the Gravel Trail. Turn left here, then an immediate right at the Lake Trail. This trail follows Laguna Canyon for the last mile back to your starting point.
The parking area is open daily from 8am to 5pm.
Ridgeline Loop Trail Map in James Dilley Preserve
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