Looking for an easy, family-friendly walk in South OC? The Panhe Nature Trail might be just what you’re looking for. Located near the Cristianitos campground at the San Onofre State Beach, this is a short one mile round trip with markers highlighting the natural beauty of the park.
If you want to extend the walk, you can continue on another 1.5 miles to the famous Trestles surfer’s beach.
The San Mateo campground is one of two camping areas at San Onofre State Beach. If you’re not camping here, you’ll need to pay $15 for a day use parking pass, or display your annual State Park Day Use pass in your car window.
Nature Trail Markers
There is an information kiosk at the trailhead for the Panhe Nature Trail. If you’re lucky, you might be able to pickup a flyer with descriptions of the numbered markers along the nature trail. If not, here’s an overview:
- Coastal Sage Scrub Community
Development, the introduction of non-native grasses and plants, agriculture and grazing have destroyed more than 25% of this plant community in Southern California. Native Americans commonly used many coastal scrub plants like the ones you will see on this trail. This area is also home to several threatened or endangered species: California Gnatcatcher, Arroyo Toad, Pacific Pocket Mouse, Least Bells Vireo, Steelhead Trout and the Tidewater Goby.
- Mountain Lions
These elusive animals do live in the area. Please keep your kids close while on the trail and tell a Ranger immediately if you see a mountain lion.
- Animal Habitat
The dense foliage of this area provides excellent cover for rabbits, coyotes, bobcats and other animals that call this area home.
- Elderberry Tree
This tree played an important role to the Native Americans. The stems have a soft pulpy core with a harder outer core. Hollowed out branches were used for arrows. The branch was light which helped with flight. The branches were also used for skewers to cook meat over the fire, and flutes, thus earning the Elderberry tree the “Tree of Music”. The blossoms were used to make curative teas due to their high content of vitamin C, the berries can be made into jams and wine or boiled to make dyes to color grasses that are then woven into basket designs.
- Coyote Brush
This common shrub is densely leafed and provides much of the cover for this area. In the fall it has a white flower bloom, followed by fluffy seed masses.
Local Native Americans considered coastal sage an important medicinal plant and used it to treat common colds and headaches. The leaves could be rubbed on the body before hunting to mask the human scent. Sage can be found in abundance along the trail.
- Bird Habitat
You will probably see many birds along the trail, in the campground and at the beach. You may get lucky and see a nest. Some feed on seeds and berries, while the raptors, such as the Red Tailed Hawk hunt small rodents. Turkey Vultures patrol from the skies smelling out dead animals to feed on.
- Mule Fat
This is a native shrub. It got its name because miners would tie their mules to the branches, and they would get fat or bloated from eating the leaves all day.
In early spring little clusters of tiny pink flowers appear on this plant that will turn into sticky, red berries which you can drop into water to make a lemon like flavored drink. This shrub is from the Rhus family, the same as poison oak, yet it will not affect you the same. Lemonade berry is only found in California.
- Bush Monkey Flower
There are 77 species of monkey flower, the most common here is the Bush Monkey Flower. The flowers vary from orange to red. The stems were used by Native Americans for salads or crushed to make a poultice that was used to relieve burns and skin irritations.
- Native American Life
The Acjachemen occupied the village of Panhe, near the mouth of the San Mateo Canyon, for nearly 1,000 years. Here they had access to a variety of plant and animal resources like shellfish, surf fish, small mammals, birds, seeds, berries, and bulbs. The fenced area below contains reburials of ancient remains uncovered during developments in the Orange County area.
Also called California broom, Deerweed is part of the pea family. It is commonly found in coastal sage scrub and chaparral areas. It has yellow and orange flowers that bloom March-August that attract bees.
Look out to sea where the coastal scrub plan community, the San Mateo Creek and the Pacific Ocean come together. The guided nature trail ends here, or you may continue for 1.5 miles to famous “Trestles”; one of the best surf spots in the world.