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

Aliso and Wood Canyons

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park consists of over 4200 acres of shallow canyons, sandstone rock formations, narrow strips of oak and riparian woodland, and hillsides draped with aromatic sage-scrub vegetation. Subdivisions press against the park’s long, narrow boundary, so this “wilderness” is wild only in a relative sense. A grand, looping ten-mile tour of the park can be fashioned mainly out of trails that reach deeply into Wood Canyon and travel along its rim, featuring a view of the Pacific Ocean.

You may start at the park’s primary trailhead, a large parking lot alongside the AMWA (Aliso Water Management Agency) Road, just west of Alicia Parkway in the city of Laguna Niguel. Adjacent to this lot, the Orange County Natural History Museum offers visitors a modest introduction to the area’s plants, wildlife, and geology.

The sole trail departing the parking lot takes you subtly downhill along the wide floodplain of Aliso Canyon. You follow the shoulder of the AWMA access road for about 0.7 mile, then diverge on a trail that stays within a short distance of the road. The glimpses you get of weathered outcrops of 15-million-year-old sandstone on hillsides to the north are intriguing. You’ll see more of that type of sandstone later at close range.

At 1.4 miles you arrive at a major junction, with restrooms and benches, where the two canyons — Aliso and Wood — join. Head north on Wood Canyon Trail and you soon spy, on the left, Cave Rock, a series of “wind caves” pocking a sandstone ledge. Check that out, then continue north on the Wood Canyon Trail until, at 2.2 miles, you find and follow the side trail on the left leading to Dripping Cave. This impressive overhang, tucked into a narrow ravine, was the supposed hideout of 19th-century stagecoach and livestock thieves. Holes bored into the cave’s walls once held pegs used to hang supplies, and the black color of the cave’s ceiling is evidence of past campfires.

Retrace your steps for a few paces and veer left on the narrow trail going northwest. You contour across a steep hillside, pass some elaborately sculpted sandstone formations on the far side of a ravine, and drop precariously onto the flat floor of shallow Mathis Canyon. Turn left on the Mathis Canyon Trail and stay right at the next split. A 500-foot, no-nonsense climb atop a narrow ridge ensues. This may be eased by the pauses you take to admire the ever-widening views of Wood Canyon — an island of green and gold amid an endless suburban tapestry spreading inland.

At 3.8 miles, the sweaty ascent ends as you reach the West Ridge Trail, a wide, graded fire road coming down from Laguna Beach’s “Top of the World” neighborhood. Turn right (north) and enjoy fine views of the sharp gash of Laguna Canyon to the left and the more gentle watershed of Wood Canyon on the right. At 5.2 miles, find and follow the narrow Lynx Trail on the right (very steep in a couple of spots) down a ridge and into upper Wood Canyon.

At the bottom of the Lynx Trail, turn right on the Wood Canyon Trail. Close ahead, veer right on the Oaks Trail, a parallel trail down the canyon for hiking-only traffic (if you are on a mountain bike, stay on Wood Canyon Trail). Following a narrow strip of oak woodland along the Oaks Trail, and later the Coyote Run Trail, you reach — after nearly two miles of travel in shady Wood Canyon — Mathis Canyon Trail. Veer left to cross Wood Canyon’s tiny creek and to hook up with the Wood Canyon Trail again. Continue south to the Aliso-Wood canyon confluence, and from there return to the Alicia Parkway trailhead the way you came.

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.

Aliso and Wood Canyons
Take a comprehensive hiking or mountain-biking tour through Orange County’s Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 75 miles
Hiking or biking length: 10 miles
Difficulty: moderately strenuous

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

Previous article

Discovery of priest’s letters reveals tension between church, locals

Culture Clash
Next Article

The glamour and crime of Tijuana

Club Campestre abduction, cross-border prostitution, Russian-owned gym, TJ's new night scene

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park consists of over 4200 acres of shallow canyons, sandstone rock formations, narrow strips of oak and riparian woodland, and hillsides draped with aromatic sage-scrub vegetation. Subdivisions press against the park’s long, narrow boundary, so this “wilderness” is wild only in a relative sense. A grand, looping ten-mile tour of the park can be fashioned mainly out of trails that reach deeply into Wood Canyon and travel along its rim, featuring a view of the Pacific Ocean.

You may start at the park’s primary trailhead, a large parking lot alongside the AMWA (Aliso Water Management Agency) Road, just west of Alicia Parkway in the city of Laguna Niguel. Adjacent to this lot, the Orange County Natural History Museum offers visitors a modest introduction to the area’s plants, wildlife, and geology.

The sole trail departing the parking lot takes you subtly downhill along the wide floodplain of Aliso Canyon. You follow the shoulder of the AWMA access road for about 0.7 mile, then diverge on a trail that stays within a short distance of the road. The glimpses you get of weathered outcrops of 15-million-year-old sandstone on hillsides to the north are intriguing. You’ll see more of that type of sandstone later at close range.

At 1.4 miles you arrive at a major junction, with restrooms and benches, where the two canyons — Aliso and Wood — join. Head north on Wood Canyon Trail and you soon spy, on the left, Cave Rock, a series of “wind caves” pocking a sandstone ledge. Check that out, then continue north on the Wood Canyon Trail until, at 2.2 miles, you find and follow the side trail on the left leading to Dripping Cave. This impressive overhang, tucked into a narrow ravine, was the supposed hideout of 19th-century stagecoach and livestock thieves. Holes bored into the cave’s walls once held pegs used to hang supplies, and the black color of the cave’s ceiling is evidence of past campfires.

Retrace your steps for a few paces and veer left on the narrow trail going northwest. You contour across a steep hillside, pass some elaborately sculpted sandstone formations on the far side of a ravine, and drop precariously onto the flat floor of shallow Mathis Canyon. Turn left on the Mathis Canyon Trail and stay right at the next split. A 500-foot, no-nonsense climb atop a narrow ridge ensues. This may be eased by the pauses you take to admire the ever-widening views of Wood Canyon — an island of green and gold amid an endless suburban tapestry spreading inland.

At 3.8 miles, the sweaty ascent ends as you reach the West Ridge Trail, a wide, graded fire road coming down from Laguna Beach’s “Top of the World” neighborhood. Turn right (north) and enjoy fine views of the sharp gash of Laguna Canyon to the left and the more gentle watershed of Wood Canyon on the right. At 5.2 miles, find and follow the narrow Lynx Trail on the right (very steep in a couple of spots) down a ridge and into upper Wood Canyon.

At the bottom of the Lynx Trail, turn right on the Wood Canyon Trail. Close ahead, veer right on the Oaks Trail, a parallel trail down the canyon for hiking-only traffic (if you are on a mountain bike, stay on Wood Canyon Trail). Following a narrow strip of oak woodland along the Oaks Trail, and later the Coyote Run Trail, you reach — after nearly two miles of travel in shady Wood Canyon — Mathis Canyon Trail. Veer left to cross Wood Canyon’s tiny creek and to hook up with the Wood Canyon Trail again. Continue south to the Aliso-Wood canyon confluence, and from there return to the Alicia Parkway trailhead the way you came.

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.

Aliso and Wood Canyons
Take a comprehensive hiking or mountain-biking tour through Orange County’s Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 75 miles
Hiking or biking length: 10 miles
Difficulty: moderately strenuous

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

What a teachers union has done to Gompers

29 teachers laid off in June, re-hired in July
Next Article

The glamour and crime of Tijuana

Club Campestre abduction, cross-border prostitution, Russian-owned gym, TJ's new night scene
Comments
1

Thanks Jerry. This place is a true delight in such an urbanized area.

May 14, 2008

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