South Orange County is often dismissed as a snooty, well-to-do slice of suburbia filled with malls, expensive cars and cookie cutter houses. It may fit that stereotype on the surface, but there is much more to explore. There are hidden trails like the Aliso Peak Trail above Laguna Beach.
Getting to the Aliso Peak Trail
The Aliso Peak Trail is officially part of Aliso and Woods Canyon Wilderness Park, but you won’t find it connected to the more familiar parts of the park. The entrance is at the west end of Seaview Park in Laguna Niguel. There is free street parking along Talavera Drive. View in Google Maps. The park’s hours are 7am – 9pm March 1 through October 31, and 7am to 6pm November 1 through February 28.
Hiking to Aliso Peak
From the green grassy Seaview Park, make your way to the west end (closest to the guard shack for the gated community beyond). You’ll see drinking fountains and information signs about the park. From here, the wide dirt trail follows the ridge line with condos on your left, and Aliso Canyon on your right.
The plants you see along this trail have been maintained in their natural condition. This is one of the few areas where plants of the inland mountains and north coastal California grow side-by-side with plants from San Diego County and Baja California. Many of the plants have been identified with markers along the way.
At about 0.3 miles you reach the last picnic table, with awesome ocean views.
From here, veer to the left to find a steep, gravely trail that heads down towards Aliso Peak. Yes, this is one of the few peaks you’ll ever bag where you start out looking down at it.
The trail opens up along a street lined with McMansions. Watch for the posts on the right that indicate the trail down. Take it.
At 0.7 miles you reach a saddle junction with the Toovet Trail, which ascends from Laguna Beach below. Stick to the right and head up the fairly steep final push to the summit of Aliso Peak.
When you reach the summit of Aliso Peak, you’re rewarded with great views of the Laguna coastline. And a bench to catch your breath on, or to sit while you watch for whales, or enjoy the sunset. Take some time to just be. That’s where this little trail excels.
Going back, you simply retrace your steps. Although I’ve classified this trail as easy due to the short length, it’s not really for hiking beginners. The hills are steep, a little treacherous and really get your heart pumping.
You can modify this to just take in the easy top section and skip the peak. Then it’s family- and stroller-friendly and a perfect picnic spot. You can also string this together with the Aliso Summit Trail (with a little sidewalk time) and turn this into a longer more serious hike.
Aliso Peak Trail Map
Aliso Peak Tips
- Dogs are allowed, but must remain on leash. There are drinking fountains and a dog bowl at the trailhead.
- There are a number of picnic tables on the first part of the trail, and most of them have great views.
- Aliso Peak is a great spot whale watching during the annual migration, January through April.
More Aliso Peak Resources
- A great spot to take kids for a geology lesson is the nearby Badlands Park.
- Aliso and Woods Canyon Wilderness Park map (PDF)
- Official Aliso and Woods Canyon Wilderness Park web site
- Download the GPX file
I play bass at a church in San Clemente every Sunday and am always looking for shorter hikes I can do in the area before heading back home to Riverside. This and the San Clemente Beach Trail are now on my list of must dos. Thanks for introducing me to these. I’d also love to find some more intense hikes in the area. I’ll spend some more time checking out your site. Thanks for the great blog entries.
Jeff Hester says
Hey BassPlayerBill! Thanks for the feedback! As you’ve no doubt discovered, I’ve got quite a few trails in OC. I lived in OC for decades — everywhere from Irvine to Fountain Valley to Tustin to Aliso Viejo to Laguna Niguel to San Clemente. I now live up in LA, but I still have an office down in OC, and still hike there as often as I can.
Looks like a great place to test some new gear with my wife.
thank you good sir, and keep up the good work.
David S. Wilfert, Real Estate Broker says
My wife and two babes, a 2/yr old and a 4/month old, hiked this a couple of weeks ago. Though clearer sky’s would’ve been wonderful (to see Catalina), we still had a fantastic time. Sunny, perfect temperature and friendly trail-goers…Great short (getting back into hiking) hike. Thanks for the recommendation!
As a fairly recent transplant to OC from the PNW I assumed there wouldn’t be many good hikes in the area – boy was I wrong! Dozens, if not hundreds of beautiful hikes. Who knew?? Many are dog friendly, easy to get to and have great views.
Whew! Did this one today and it is definitely not for beginners (read: me). Took me a long while to get up those big hills on the way back, but it was a good workout!
Marianne Dexter says
Just did this hike today for the first time and appreciate your detailed directions. But wanted to let you know that the “posts on the right that indicate the trail down” (to which you refer in your directions) are no longer there; or, at least, cannot be seen due to overgrowth. Still found the trail just fine though. Great short hike for a good workout.