Los Angeles Top Trails

Bell Canyon
By Jerry Schad
  |  Gorp.com
Key Info

0.0 – From windmill follow Nature Trail
0.4 – Turn left on Dick Loskorn Trail; ascend sharply
1.0 – Reach top of ridge; turn right on West Ridge Trail
1.7 – Turn right on Star Rise and descend
2.4 – Turn right on Oak Trail
3.0 – Join Nature Trail; keep straight
3.5 – Return to windmill

Trail Use: Hike, run
Length: 3.5 miles, 2 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss: 400'/400'
Difficulty: 1 2 3 4 5 +
Trail Type: Loop
Surface Type: Dirt

Child friendly, canyon, autumn colors, wildflowers, birds, wildlife, great views

Excerpted from Top Trails: Los Angeles by Jerry Schad

BEST HIKE FOR WILDLIFE: The wild critters at Orange County's Caspers Regional Park are often out and about during early morning and late afternoon hours. Hike in groups; this is mountain-lion habitat.

Finding the Trail
From Interstate 5 at San Juan Capistrano, drive east on Ortega Highway (Highway 74) 7.6 miles to the park entrance on the left, where you pay a fee to enter. Day-use hours are 7 a.m. to sunset daily. Drive in past the nature center and continue 1 mile up Bell Canyon on a paved road to a parking lot at the old windmill—a local point of interest and reference point for the trail system.

Trail Description
Begin hiking at the old windmill on a path designated "Nature Trail." Follow it across the wide bed of Bell Canyon and into the dense oak woodland on the far side. After 0.3 mile, you'll spot a park bench beneath a gorgeous, spreading oak tree. A little farther on, veer left on the Dick Loskorn Trail. This narrow path meanders up a shallow draw and soon climbs to a sandstone ridgeline that at one point narrows to near-knife-edge width. At one point you'll find yourself stepping within a foot of a modest but unnerving abyss.

The sandstone outcrops along the Dick Loskorn Trail belong to the Santiago Formation, which can be seen in many places throughout the coastal hills of Orange County. The sandstone originates from sediments laid down about 45 million years ago.

After climbing about 350 feet, you reach a dirt road—the West Ridge Trail. Turn right (north), skirting the fence line of Rancho Mission Viejo, a vast landholding that encompasses much of southern Orange County. Before World War II, it included all of Camp Pendleton as well. To the left you look down on a broad, shallow canyon known as Cañada Gobernadora, which is gradually being overtaken by luxury housing.

After 0.7 mile on the West Ridge Trail, turn right on the trail named Star Rise. You descend back into Bell Canyon, this time on a wider path. Nearing the bottom, veer right on the Oak Trail. On this delightful trace of the trail, you'll meander past California sycamores as well as ancient coast live oaks. Sunlight filtering through the sycamore leaves bathes the ground shadows in a jungle-green luminance. The Oak Trail will return you to the Nature Trail, and then your starting point.

Article © Wilderness Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 4 Oct 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »