Deeded to the Orange County parks system by the Irvine Company in 1992, Peters Canyon Regional Park has -- like several other newly declared open-space areas around the periphery of the Orange County metropolis -- gained almost instant popularity. The park features the 55-acre Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir, several natural habitats (freshwater marsh, riparian woodland, grassland, and coastal sage-scrub), and about six miles of trails. The shallow reservoir is not open to fishing, but birding is fine here. Mats of marsh vegetation and water-loving trees (willows, cottonwoods, and sycamores) hug most of the shoreline, attracting egrets, grebes, herons, and other birds. The park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset daily.
From the park's northern (main) entrance and parking lot, off Canyon View Avenue in the city of Orange, you can start hiking by going west on the Lake View Trail. The shortest circumnavigation of the lake measures less than two miles, while side trips to the south, below the reservoir dam, can easily add another two miles. The 0.8-mile-long Peters Canyon Creek Trail, which diverges from and roughly parallels the wide Lower Canyon Trail in Peters Canyon, is more fun than any other. This narrow path resembles a scaled-up rabbit run through the brush. You duck under the limbs of willow, black cottonwood, and sycamore, inhale the humid odors of riparian vegetation and the pungent scent of eucalyptus, and sometimes (depending on the recentness of rainfall) splash through shallow water or squish through mud in the canyon bottom. Footbridges are present at some of the creek crossings.
At the end of the Peters Canyon Creek Trail, you come up out of the shady canyon bottom to rejoin the Lower Canyon Trail. By turning left there, you travel expeditiously north, up along the reservoir's east side and around the rest of the lake, toward your starting point. As you approach the north end of the lake, don't miss the narrow shortcut trail -- through a dense growth of willows -- on the left.