Whiting Ranch - Foothill Ranch, CA Orange County
What: Hiking, climbing, walking, trail biking, wildlife, equestrian
Where: Market Place & Portola Parkway Foothill Ranch, CA 92610 (Parking lot next to Ralphs)
When: Daily, 7am-sunset
Why: Great views, set your own pace hiking/climbing. Light walking to strenuous climbing depending on your trail.
Cost: Free! ($3 parking if you park in the Whiting Ranch lot by Ralphs)
Rarely can you find such vastly different scenery in such a small area than can be found at Whiting Ranch in Orange County. From red, rocky sandstone canyons to rolling grasslands to oak & sycamore tree canopies, this park has something for everyone.
Though 90% of this 2500 acre wilderness park was destroyed by the 2007 Santiago Fire, even in its recovery phase it offers breathtaking views, scenic forest beauty, and outdoor activity options ranging from a quiet picnic, a strenuous biking adventure, or a horseback trail ride.
There are 23 trails equaling roughly 17 miles so this park can be a quick stop or a full day event. While exploring, you may encounter some of the parks various wildlife, including snakes, hawks, deer, and in rare events even a mountain lion (don't worry, they usually shy away from people).
For a low cost day of fun in Orange County, I'd highly recommend some time spent at Whiting Ranch. Ocean views, beautiful sunsets, wildlife, and the opportunity to either get in a workout or just enjoy a casual stroll, this park is part-wild, part-family fun, and truly does have something for everyone.
- Bring water & some snacks. It's easy to wander through this place for hours, and it'll be more enjoyable if you can eat along the way. Ralphs is right next to the parking lot, so stop in & grab some energy bars or trail mix!
- During the warmer months, bring extra water, some areas offer little shade.
- Use caution when exploring the sandstone areas. The rock walls & the ground look stable and sturdy, but loose rock & sand can easily cause slips and falls.
- If hiking, watch out for bikers! Whiting Ranch offers some of the best mountain biking trails around, so keep an eye out for bikes flying by, or stick to the trails which are just for hiking.
- The park closes at dark, but offers amazing sunset views. Explore deep into the park by day, and make your last stop out the trail to Vista Lookout (Mustard Road trail). This stop will make for some great sunset shots (photo below) and allow you plenty of time to get back to the parking lot before total darkness