Hiking Whiting Ranch
Living in the middle of civilization, it can be tough to find good hiking trails. In the heart of Orange County, California, is the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park which encompasses approximately 2500 acres of riparian and oak woodland canyons, rolling grassland hills and steep slopes of coastal sage shrub and chaparral. The park is highlighted by scenic rock formations. Red Rock Canyon is the feature attraction and is reminiscent of the canyons of southern Utah. Whiting Ranch can provide a challenging, medium level, hike in distance and difficulty. The park is filled with multiple trails and they can be combined in different combinations to accomodate your level of ability and desired distance. The route I prefer encompasses the three main features of the park: Dreaded Hill, Red Rock Canyon, and Billy Goat Trail. The distance totals in at 8.1 miles and should take just over 3 hours to complete, depending on your pace.
The start of the trail is next to the parking lot between the Kaiser Aluminum Corp. building and Wahoo’s Restaurant, at the intersection of Portola Parkway and Glenn Ranch Rd in Foothill Ranch, California. Don’t look for a trailhead sign as it doesn’t exist, just make your way past the lot and into the tree line. Take the Serrano Road Trail toward Portola Parkway down the under pass and follow it for a mile and it will become Dreaded Hill Trail. This is the start of the most difficult portion of the route with the path quickly rising 800 feet to the top of the hill. This is the portion where you’ll most likely take the most breaks, catching your breath from the steep elevation. Once you get to the top, there is a wooden bench where you can rest and enjoy the view.
As you continue down the other end of the hill, along a short section of switchbacks, you can see Red Rock Canyon and Billy Goat Trail in the distance as the route turns into Water Tank Trail. The trail will come to a water tank, which you’ll come across again on your way back. As you come to the Four Corners area, take the Mustard Trail to the left, before you get to the water tower and continue downhill. It’s an easy hike down before you get to Red Rock Trail on your right.
Take Red Rock toward the canyon and the trail will take you through a dried creek bed until you get to Red Rock Canyon. Some scrambling is required but only for a short distance. Jokingly called the Grand Canyon of Orange County, the canyon is a miniature version of the terrain you’ll find in the southwest. This is a great time to rest before heading back up the hill.
On your way back, take the same trail back to Mustard trail. Take this back up the hill until you see the marker for Billy Goat Trail. It will be on the left.
This is a single track trail along the ridge of a hill. This is my favorite portion of the park. It’s a challenging route with quick gains in elevation and uneven terrain. This trail is only about three quarters of a mile before you reach Whiting Spur Trail. From here, take the trail to the right, toward the same water tank you saw earlier. You can catch your breath in the shade of the structure, or continue just a little further where you’ll find a bench to sit on. This is also the location where the trail splits into four different directions, The Four Corners, where you past earlier. Make your decent down Whiting Road Trail, you’ll shortly come across Cactus Hill Trail on your left which you can take also but keep in mind this trail is popular with mountain bikers as well. Whiting Road trail is wider and Cactus Hill is narrower but they will both get you to Line Shack Trail which you’ll take for a short distance and then continue to Serrano Cow Trail.
This is a great shaded section through a wooded canyon that will be a welcome portion that will keep you out of the sun. This trail will take you directly back to Serrano Road Trail where you’ll want to turn left back to your car. At this point, it’s less than a mile back to the start of your hike. I took the Cactus Hill route back and the distance for this route was 8.1 miles of pure fun. I’ve also hiked without going to Red Rock Canyon and made a quick right from Mustard Trail onto Billy Goat Trail and reduced the route to 6.5 miles and it took 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete. This is another option if you wish to do a shorter hike.
Whiting Ranch is a challenging hike, but you don’t need to be an expert hiker to complete it. It has some wonderful views and multiple types of terrain all within the same park that is locally situated. A challenging hill, wooded canyon, Red Rock Canyon, and the single track and undulating ridge of Billy Goat Trail combine for a wonderful hike and has become one of my favorite local hikes.