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Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is just one component of south Orange ­County’s 20,000-acre swath of coastal open-space parkland that is open to all kinds of non-motorized travel. The Big Bend Loop trail route (which takes its name from the sharp east-to-northward bend in Laguna Canyon Road, Highway 133, departing from Laguna Beach) goes practically straight up, and later straight down. In only 4.5 miles, you gain and lose 1100 feet of elevation, and most of that is accomplished on short, steep pitches. This makes it quite difficult for hikers — and nearly, but not quite impossible for intrepid mountain-bikers who must be willing to shoulder their bikes from time to ­time.

The low-growing coastal sage-scrub and grassland vegetation on the slopes and ridges all along the Big Bend route does little to block views near and far. This is a hike best taken, then, under clear, sunny skies. The entire region, including ocean, far-spreading suburbs, innumerable foothills, and mountains, lies within your gaze when the air is sufficiently ­transparent.

The route begins at Laguna Coast Wilderness ­Park’s Big Bend parking lot on the west side of Laguna Canyon Road, two miles inland from Laguna Beach and two miles south of the Highway 73 toll road. From the parking lot, head south on foot and start climbing immediately on the Big Bend Trail. At 0.2 mile, just as you cross under some power lines, note the obscure path to the left. You will arrive to this spot again near the end of the ­hike.

The Big Bend Trail takes you ever upward along a ridgeline on a course committed to gaining elevation as quickly as possible. A couple of flat stretches along the way, though, allow you to catch your breath and look around. Before long, cars and buildings in Laguna Canyon below begin to look toylike. Scallop fossils can be spotted lying near your feet if your eyes are glued to the ­ground.

At 1.6 miles you come to an intersection with the wide Bommer Ridge Road. Turn left and proceed south on a gently falling, then gently rising course to the intersection of Boat Canyon Road on the right (2.7 miles from the start). On the left, just past Boat Canyon Road but before the next intersecting road on the right, a narrow track goes briefly uphill over a 912-foot knoll, then suddenly and precipitously downhill. This is the Laguna Ridge Trail that will take you back down to Laguna ­Canyon.

Rough and worn deeply into the sandstone bedrock, the Laguna Ridge Trail approaches a 40 percent downgrade in a couple of spots. Nearing the bottom of the plunge, the trail veers left (east), almost reaching the pavement of Laguna Canyon Road (3.6 miles). The final mile or so of trail goes up and down a couple of times, staying parallel to but decently clear of the busy roadway. At 4.3 miles you meet Big Bend Trail, which leads 0.2 mile down to the starting ­point.

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.

Climb to the highest heights of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park near Laguna Beach.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 80 miles
Hiking length: 4.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

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