THE GREAT OUTDOORS OF IRVINE, CA
Located in the center of Orange County, the coastal-adjacent city of Irvine, California is an active person’s dream.
With a myriad of outdoor activities to choose from, Irvine will keep you healthy and fit from sunrise to sunset. Let’s take a look at Irvine’s incredible outdoor landscape, complete with iconic hiking and biking trails, natural habitats, public parks, nature walks, wetlands, historic landmarks and scenic ocean views. In fact, the Trust of Public Land ranked Irvine’s open space and parks the best in Southern California and the 10th best in the United States in 2019.
We’ll show you how to get the most adventure out of your trip to Irvine below!
Irvine’s Outdoor Landscape
The city of Irvine was designed with conservation in mind. Some 16,000 acres of preserved natural habitats and wildlands offer wide open spaces, hiking trails, and bikeways for visitors to enjoy, while public parks and green spaces dot business complexes and residential areas.
With about a third of the city designated for outdoor recreation, its residents naturally tend to have an active streak. Visitors love to join the locals anytime take in the great outdoors.
Irvine Open Space Preserve
The scenic Bommer Canyon, part of the Irvine Open Space Preserve, is ideal for leisurely hikes and nature walks. Folks can hit the trails for hiking, mountain biking, bird and wildlife spotting through this 5200+ acre expanse of the historic Irvine Ranch, which was officially designated as a Natural Landmark by the State of California and the United States Department of the Interior.
Docents also regularly lead nature hikes, mountain biking lessons, tai chi, animal tracking and other activities.
Bring the dog, too! Quail Hill, one of the preserve’s four areas, is the only wilderness trail in the Natural Landmarks that allows dogs, as long as they remain leashed. LetsGoOutside.org
Mountains to Sea Trail
Hiking enthusiasts can take on this 22-mile trail through Orange County, which stretches from Weir Canyon, on the northern edge of Irvine Ranch, south towards the California coast, ending at Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach. Easily accessible by foot or bike, the trek promises a stunning overview of the region’s diverse landscapes and wildlife.
San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary
This wildlife sanctuary is a true hidden gem in Irvine. The San Joaquin Marsh spans more than 300 acres of coastal freshwater wetlands, over half of which has been restored, making it one of the largest in Southern California. Visitors can stroll through 12 miles of trails, flanked by blue water and vibrant patches of green.
It’s also a birdwatcher’s delight, home to more than 200 different species that soar overhead or swoop down to skim the still waters.
No vehicles, bikes, or pets are allowed, so take the opportunity to commune with nature in peace.
With more than 300 miles of on-road and more than 60 miles of off-road bikeways, including biking trails that wind through scenic expanses of the Irvine Open Space Preserve, Irvine is a fantastic biking city.
In fact, it was the first city in Orange County to be named a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, in 2009.
Hiking Trails and Natural Landmarks
There are great things to do in Orange County for everyone! Indeed, visitors are naturally drawn to The OC for the stunning coastline, the sparkling cities and the perfect California weather. But the draw for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to visit Irvine is especially strong. Irvine is a place where nature and history have shaped outdoor spaces like no other city in the region.
One such extraordinary collection of outdoor spaces is known as The Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Nearly 300 miles of trails stretch across this 50,000-acre preserve, inviting hikers to learn about the area’s ranching history and take in the beauty of the coastal bluffs. Hikers love these parts, where trails lead to mountain forests, rugged seas, rocky canyons and giant boulders.
Here are some other hiking options for the outdoor hiking enthusiast who wants to mix it up!
Hiking with Kids: A particular favorite with families is the 3-mile Woodbridge Trail in the heart of Irvine. Young nature-lovers will also enjoy a loop through Irvine Regional Park (the park’s scheduled night hikes are a special experience!) Speaking of scheduled hikes, the docent-led treks into wilderness areas at many of the Irvine Ranch preserves are excellent, so be sure to check their schedules while in the Irvine area.
Hiking in Search of Wildlife: Created as a 4500-acre wildlife sanctuary, Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park features an 11-mile loop trail with plenty of time to see eagles, hawks and falcons above; and glimpses of several protected species along the trail to the top of the ridge. Another Irvine spot favored by wildlife-loving hikers is Bommer Canyon, especially on wilderness access days.
Hiking to Find Spectacular Views: So many trails in and around Irvine fit this bill. Check out the Sinks Trail at Limestone Canyon Regional Park; trails along the coastal canyons and rocky beaches at Crystal Cove State Park; or the paths that loop through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, especially the one through Little Sycamore Canyon.
Hiking in the Heart of the City: Orange County, along with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and the City of Irvine have spared no effort to create trails within easy reach of civilization. One epic example is the 22-mile Mountains to Sea Trail which offers hikes through rugged canyons across five different OC cities, with the ultimate reward of Upper Newport Bay in coastal Newport Beach.
Hiking Multiple Trails to Test Your Limits: If you’re an advanced hiker who loves a good challenge, make your way to the Quail Hill Trailhead in South Irvine. It’s a premier access point to multiple trails, perfect for planning a long day’s loop. Depending on your preferred terrain, the Shady Canyon Trail gives access to the Turtle Rock Trail, the University Trail and the Bonita Canyon Trail, all the way to Newport Beach. You can use the same trailhead to start your trip up Juanita Moe Trail around Quail Hill Preserve, or to take the Quail Hill Loop. Read below for more details:
Quail Hill: The 2.8-acre Quail Hill Trailhead provides a great location to connect to southern Irvine’s extensive trail network. The trailhead is located at the end of Sand Canyon Road and marks the beginning of the Quail Hill Loop Trail, an easy two-mile natural surface trail at the foot of Quail Hill that is open to the public from dawn to dusk.
Orchard Hills: This three-mile, multi-use trail features a double loop and skirts the edge of a working avocado orchard. The larger 3-mile outer loop is relatively strenuous, with a substantial elevation gain over a short distance in certain sections. The reward for those who conquer the trail is a breath-taking vista of the city and the coastal hills from Loma Ridge.
Bommer Canyon: Rich in both Irvine Ranch lore and natural wonders, Bommer Canyon beckons nature walkers, hikers and all other outdoor enthusiasts to stroll past ancient oak and sycamore groves and rough rock outcrops. Join relaxing yoga hiking groups at Bommer Canyon and Quail Hill that enable your yoga spirit to link with the natural environment on one-mile loop hikes. Hike then return to your yoga mat for up to an hour of guided yoga under a sycamore tree canopy.
How to Prepare for an Outdoor Adventure
Preparing for your outdoor adventure doesn’t have to be stressful or complicated. By following a few easy steps, you’ll be ready to go on the adventure of your dreams in the beautiful outdoors of Irvine, CA.
- Prep your mind
- Get in shape
- Eat for fuel
- Get the right gear
- Plan your adventure in Irvine!
There is no doubt that Irvine has a lot of special places to offer when it comes to outdoor adventures and recreational activities in Orange County. By embracing Irvine’s incredible outdoor landscape and experiencing the most appropriate adventures for you, your friends and family, every visit will leave you wanting more. See you in Irvine soon!