Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Hike to Orange County's micro Grand Canyon in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.

In 1991 Orange County opened the 1500-acre Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, which sprawls across the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains just east of the communities of Lake Forest and El Toro. One surprise can be found in the upper reaches of a narrow ravine through the park called Borrego Canyon. There you'll come upon strangely weathered outcrops of red-tinted sandstone, rising a sheer 100 feet or more. Some people optimistically refer to this natural amphitheater as Orange County's "Little Grand Canyon."

To get to Borrego Canyon's trailhead, exit the Foothill Transportation Corridor toll road (Highway 241) at Alton Parkway in Lake Forest. Go east on Alton 0.5 mile, turn right on Portola Parkway, and find the trailhead on the left, opposite Market Place.

From that trailhead, follow the well-traveled Borrego Trail going up Borrego Canyon. You immediately plunge into the densely shaded canyon bottom, right alongside a stream that happily trickles during winter and spring. For a while, suburbia rims the canyon on both sides, but soon enough it disappears without a trace. The trek up the canyon feels Tolkienesque as you pass under a crooked-limb canopy of live oaks and sycamores and sniff the damp odor of the streamside willows. Often in the late fall and winter, frigid air sinks into these shady recesses overnight, and by early morning frost mantles everything below eye level.

After no more than about 40 minutes of walking and 1.3 miles, you come to Mustard Road, a fire road that ascends both east and west to ridgetops offering long views of the ocean on clear days. Turn right on Mustard Road, pass a picnic site, and take the second trail to the left (the Red Rock Trail -- for hikers only), into an upper tributary of Borrego Canyon.

Out in the sunshine now, you meander up the bottom of a sunny ravine that becomes increasingly narrow and steep. Presently, you reach the base of the eroded "Red Rock" sandstone cliffs, formed of sediment deposited on a shallow sea bottom about 20 million years ago. This type of rock, which contains the fossilized remains of shellfish and marine mammals, underlies much of Orange County. Rarely is it as well exposed as here.

Like most trails in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, the Borrego Trail is open to mountain biking and horse riding, as well as hiking. Mountain bikers, however, are not allowed to ride all the way to the Red Rock cliffs. If they get as far as Mustard Road, they must return to the trailhead by a roundabout route looping east, because Borrego Trail is posted as one-way uphill for bicycles.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Imagine a pedestrian-friendly Kearny Mesa

Hard to consider history in 30-year plan

In 1991 Orange County opened the 1500-acre Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, which sprawls across the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains just east of the communities of Lake Forest and El Toro. One surprise can be found in the upper reaches of a narrow ravine through the park called Borrego Canyon. There you'll come upon strangely weathered outcrops of red-tinted sandstone, rising a sheer 100 feet or more. Some people optimistically refer to this natural amphitheater as Orange County's "Little Grand Canyon."

To get to Borrego Canyon's trailhead, exit the Foothill Transportation Corridor toll road (Highway 241) at Alton Parkway in Lake Forest. Go east on Alton 0.5 mile, turn right on Portola Parkway, and find the trailhead on the left, opposite Market Place.

From that trailhead, follow the well-traveled Borrego Trail going up Borrego Canyon. You immediately plunge into the densely shaded canyon bottom, right alongside a stream that happily trickles during winter and spring. For a while, suburbia rims the canyon on both sides, but soon enough it disappears without a trace. The trek up the canyon feels Tolkienesque as you pass under a crooked-limb canopy of live oaks and sycamores and sniff the damp odor of the streamside willows. Often in the late fall and winter, frigid air sinks into these shady recesses overnight, and by early morning frost mantles everything below eye level.

After no more than about 40 minutes of walking and 1.3 miles, you come to Mustard Road, a fire road that ascends both east and west to ridgetops offering long views of the ocean on clear days. Turn right on Mustard Road, pass a picnic site, and take the second trail to the left (the Red Rock Trail -- for hikers only), into an upper tributary of Borrego Canyon.

Out in the sunshine now, you meander up the bottom of a sunny ravine that becomes increasingly narrow and steep. Presently, you reach the base of the eroded "Red Rock" sandstone cliffs, formed of sediment deposited on a shallow sea bottom about 20 million years ago. This type of rock, which contains the fossilized remains of shellfish and marine mammals, underlies much of Orange County. Rarely is it as well exposed as here.

Like most trails in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, the Borrego Trail is open to mountain biking and horse riding, as well as hiking. Mountain bikers, however, are not allowed to ride all the way to the Red Rock cliffs. If they get as far as Mustard Road, they must return to the trailhead by a roundabout route looping east, because Borrego Trail is posted as one-way uphill for bicycles.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Tahona Bar takes it to the street

Perks include cemetery view dining, and cocktails out of a VW bus
Next Article

What a teachers union has done to Gompers

29 teachers laid off in June, re-hired in July
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close