Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park is a rare area with beautiful geography and unspoiled trails. One of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, Limestone Canyon is best known for it’s iconic geographic feature “The Sinks” which have often been called the “Mini Grand Canyon” of Orange County. The area is normally closed to hikers, except for specific days each month. These open access days give you a chance to step back in time and see what Orange County looked like before it was overtaken by amusement parks and suburbia.
This 4.5 mile loop takes you down one of the newest trails, parallel to Santiago Canyon Road, then making a long climb up the Shoestring Trail to Loma Ridge. Here you’ll get panoramic 360-degree views to the Pacific Ocean and (on a clear day) Catalina Island. It’s a great trail that doesn’t get as crowded as some of the more popular routes in Limestone Canyon Wilderness.
I had a chance to hike this loop on the opening day of the new trail segment running parallel with Santiago Canyon Road. This single-track trail makes this loop possible.
Here’s the rub. Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park is usually open only for docent-led events. You have to check the event calendar on their web site and watch carefully for the rare open-access days, when you can go on self-guided hikes through the park. It’s worth the effort.
When you’ve found an open access day, you must register at the staging area. For this hike, that was the Augustine Staging Area [urldisplaymode=nomap] at Hick’s Haul Road and Santiago Canyon Road. There was plenty of parking in a gravel lot, and there is shade and toilets available, but bring your own water.
Each hiker must sign in, although as of this writing, you won’t need to pre-register for the open access days. Note: other docent-led events listed on their web site require pre-registration and fill up quickly.
The trail heads north-west, running along the hillside parallel to Santiago Canyon Road. This single-track trail is shared with mountain bikers, so share the trail.
Soon, you part ways with the canyon, and head left up the long slow climb on the Shoestring trail. This dirt fire road is well maintained. It’s a long, steady climb up to the ridge, but well worth it. Pause along the way to look back down the hill and soak in the views.
When you reach the ridge line, you’ll turn left, heading south-east on the Loma Ridge trail. This winds up and down with roller coaster hills, but you’re rewarded with tremendous views across Orange County.
Watch for rattle snakes! When it’s warm, they like to sun themselves on the trail. They won’t generally bother you if you give them wide berth, but remember that they can strike at a distance equal to their length.
The next junction you reach will be with the Hick’s Haul trail. Turn left, heading north-east and back to the trailhead. You wind down the canyon through ancient oak trees and might even see artifacts from the days when this area was part of a working ranch.
The Shoestring-Hick’s Haul loop hike is a great workout, with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s easy to follow, and offers beautiful views of a rarely seen corner of Orange County. You can also combine this loop with other trails in the park for a longer trek. Be aware, this trail has very little shade. Wear sun protection, and bring plenty of water.
Santiago Canyon – Shoestring – Loma Ridge – Hick’s Haul Loop Trail Map
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More Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park Resources
- Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks – Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park (official site) and Event Calendar
- Trailhead directions[urldisplaymode=nomap] via Google Maps
- Want more? Add mileage with a side-trip to The Sinks.
Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park Weather Forecast
Sunday 09/23 10%
Mostly clear. Lows overnight in the mid 50s.
Monday 09/24 10%
Sunny skies. High 77F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph.
Tuesday 09/25 10%
Mainly sunny. High near 80F. Winds W at 5 to 10 mph.
Wednesday 09/26 0%
Sunshine and clouds mixed. High around 85F. Winds WNW at 10 to 15 mph.