With over 3 million people in Orange County, CA, you would think it’d be hard to find some decent hiking and mountain biking trails … As a transplant from the Pacific Northwest, I can tell you, it’s not. All within 30 miles of Disneyland, you can access close to 300 trails! The trail systems here will provide the adrenaline rush or the recovery day you need during your visit. From the Saddleback mountains massive climbs, with an altitude of just below 5,000 feet, or an awesome ride that blends wilderness with SoCal beaches in Crystal Cove State Park. Although it is my goal to review each of these sweet trails! This review is focused on my backyard – Aliso and Woods Canyon Park (referred to by the locals as Aliso Woods).
There is access at two different locations. The most popular entrance is in Laguna Niguel and the second entrance is in Aliso Viejo. When I want a longer 10 mile or greater ride, I go to the Laguna Niguel entrance. When I have 30 minutes and want a little adrenaline, I go to the Aliso Viejo entrance at Canyon View Park. Riding from Laguna Niguel, you have two options for parking: Orange County Parks parking lot directly connected for $3 a day, or you can park on the street for free. Parking on the street is limited, so show up early! Now that you have an idea of where to park, lets get to the fun stuff!
You told your wife that you were going to the store to get some milk – Unload the bike on the Aliso side of the mountain at the park. Head down to cholla, after climbing a mildly technical trail for a third of a mile, you will reach West Ridge. This trail is a fire road that connects the top of some of the best downhill trails in this system. Turn left at the top, continue less than a quarter of a mile, the first trail going down is Lynx. This is a fun half mile downhill drop of 400 feet. Starts out mellow, then after a few strokes of the crank, drop the seat post keep your butt over the rear wheel and enjoy the fast, flowy single track. Turn left at the bottom on Woods Canyon Trail (Lynx will angle you back towards your car). It will take you 15-20 minutes to climb and descend 420 feet over 2.3 miles from your car on the street. CRAZY QUICK, CRAZY FUN!
All day ride:
Alright! You got the ‘OK’ to take a 2 hour tour! Park on the Laguna Niguel side. Sit in your car with the door open and enjoy the sounds of … NOTHING! No kids! Now that you’ve relaxed for a second, go down the Aliso Creek Trail for 1.5 miles. Very flat (24 feet of elevation gain over the mile and a half). Take the first right. You will notice 2 things: Bathrooms and the trail is sand that is fit for the beaches. This trail is called Wood Canyon Trail. It is a 3 mile trail with plenty of shade throughout, and 300 feet of climb. You’re going to connect with Cholla at the end. After climbing up a mildly technical single track for 400 feet over just a third of a mile you’ll turn left on to West Ridge. This trail is a connector to all downhill lines. You will take this trail all the way to TOW (Top of the World). This is a fire road with fantastic views of the ocean, Saddleback mountains, Crystal Cove Park and Laguna Beach. There is NO SHADE, but plenty of spots to pull off to enjoy the views. But seriously, there is NO SHADE. With a little over 2 miles to the top and 500 feet of climbing you will be ready to sit at the picnic benches and refill water at the water fountain located at Top of the World. I like to take 10 minutes to enjoy the views of Catalina Island, downtown Laguna Beach and the Saddleback mountains (East). This next section of the ride will be the first time you realize that you are in a suburb of 3 million. Connect to Meadows through riding 1 mile on a neighborhood street (Altu Laguna BLVD) turn right bombing down a connector trail Aswut Trail. This is more of a rural style road than a trail. Meadows is just a third of a mile down this Orange County style “backroad”. The first trail you can connect to on the left is Meadows. Aww Meadows … super flowy and fun switchbacks! Nothing technical about this downhill, 700 feet of descend over just a mile and a half. Straight up, it’s a BLAST! Feels like a rollercoaster, and it’s a great way to end the run! This trail will take you back to the trail/road you came in on. This run is a counter clockwise run that stays on the perimeters of the Aliso and Woods Canyon Park trails.
Tighten your helmet, pull up your knee pads and wipe off the sweat from all of that climbing, because you are going to need everyone of your senses to stay safe and have fun on this one. At the beginning of your downhill (I’m assuming your not going up this trail) you will start with a fire road that gets at it quick. Expect to hit 25 MPH by the time it levels out. The trail will both, level out, and shrink to a single track about a half of a mile in. Then, you learn why it’s called Rock-It. This trail hits 200 yards of granite that is hard to read the lines. I suggest you pick one and KEEP YOUR SPEED! I flipped over my handlebars because I slowed down on this part of trail and I had a friend break his collar bone for the same reason. Shake your hands off real quick because you have another set of granite drops to manipulate. As soon as you get down that second part you now have to keep your speed, ride on the side of a boulder in straight path, lift your front wheel up about 3 feet to roll on top of a boulder and follow that up with a small technical climb up some … you guessed it, more granite! After that, the trail calms down with some fun banks that swing you one direction to the other. As always, watch out for the cacti on this trail and really this whole network. After a few changes in direction you will shoot down the final segment. This is a chance to work on your speed! Warning – SoCal soil doesn’t soak up the rare rain we get, so expect some deep ruts in the dirt on this last segment.
This trail is typically used for uphill climbing. It cuts off 3-4 miles if you want to do the long ride mentioned before, but instead of connecting through Cholla, you can connect through Mathis. There are no technical pieces to this climb. However, it is steeper and longer. Not for the faint of heart. Also, after the recent fire they had to bulldoze all of the trees and anything that would even potentially provide shade. Do not climb mid day summer. This is a 20 minute climb that doesn’t let up, but it will cut to the top much faster than Cholla.