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Oak Canyon Nature Center, a 60-acre natural park tucked amid the hilly housing tracts of eastern Anaheim, offers small kids (and their interested parents) plenty of room to roam on its tightly nested five miles' worth of hiking trails. It's pretty hard for the little ones to get seriously lost, and the price is right -- free. For adults, this is a park to savor slowly. Habitats include a trickling stream shaded by coast live oaks and hillsides coated with chaparral and sage-scrub vegetation. On the heels of wet weather (as Anaheim has had of late), wildflower displays can be spectacular here. Through April and May, the most prolific bloomer will likely be sticky monkeyflower, which paints the slopes a brilliant yellow.

Environmental education is Oak Canyon Nature Center's primary mission. A slew of workshops and hikes for families and individuals (primarily Anaheim residents) are offered year round. On certain summer evenings, "Nature Nights" -- a twilight walk followed by a presentation in the center's outdoor amphitheater -- is offered. Normal hours for the center are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No bikes, picnicking, or pets are allowed on the trails.

To reach Oak Canyon Nature Center from the Riverside Freeway (Highway 91), exit at Imperial Highway, and drive one mile south to Nohl Ranch Road. Turn left there and go east two miles to Walnut Canyon Road. Turn left and continue to the end of the road. A few steps from the parking lot will take you to a beautiful new interpretive center, nestled under spreading oaks, where you can view some exhibits and pick up a detailed trail map.

In the park itself, numerous short trails diverge from the "Main Road," which is a wide path paralleling a small stream in the bottom of Oak Canyon. The Stream Trail meanders through the thick of the riparian and oak woodland habitats, while the Roadrunner Ridge and Bluebird trails ascend onto the steep slopes overlooking the ravine bottom. During most of the year you'll find less of interest high on the shadeless, scrub-covered slopes than down amid the oaks. Right now, though, with the area at its vernal and floral peak, you'll want to gravitate toward the slopes on the south side, where blooming native plants stand shoulder to shoulder as in an English garden gone wild.

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