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
Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.
James Dilley Preserve Resources
- Barbara’s Lake Hike – WalkSimply
- Laguna Coast Wilderness Park – official website
Thank you for all your great information, i print out and follow your trial by weekly. It is very helpful direction for me ( i am poor for direction and hiking alone). hope read you more posts !
Brad Warbiany says
Just did this trail this morning… Nice little hike.
The “lake” is just a dry, cracked lake bed right now, with the drought…
Bob Houghton says
Lots of water (and many ducks) in Barbara’s lake as of January 20.
Mike McNelly says
Thanks for pointing this trail out, I’ve driven by it hundreds of times, but just got around to doing it today. It’s a nice trail that can be enjoyed without burning up a lot of time.
As of October 2016, the lake is dry as a bone.
Charles C says
Lake has been dry since late spring this year. After the first rain, it will be full of life.
Steve R says
Nice little loop. Not too strenuous with some nice views of Orange County and the Canyon. Plenty of water in the lake as of July 4, 2017.
Jane Orto says
Are dogs allowed on the trail?
Can we go swimming in Barbara’s Lake?
Rebecca Ellsworth says
Do you know if this trail is closed due to covid-19?
The trails just opened up today, so you can go starting from 05/16/2020
The trails just opened up today, so you can go starting from 05/16/2020. I believe all County regional and wilderness parks in OC are now open.
Does the parking lot open at 8 am or you can get their earlier an park?
Is there any water and/or fish in the lake right now?