Red Rock in Orange County

Hike to dramatic red rock formations at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County

Go on a SoCal daycation to a canyon with red rock cliffs like those seen in Arizona or Utah but located within a stone’s throw of OC suburbia. To find them it’s a 4.25-mile out-and-back trek through 2,500-acre Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, which also features ample shade amid beautiful oak woodland.

Woman hiking through the entrance to Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County

Woman standing on a hiking trail staring at giant red rock formation in front of her at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County

Woman hiking on Borrego Canyon Trail in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County

Park at the lot ($3) and find the trailhead behind the art piece at the park’s entrance plaza; this is the Borrego Canyon Trail. The wide dirt path (shared by bikers) goes through riparian environments early on, with multiple stream crossings. Look for mule deer quenching their thirst creekside, striped racers hunting for rats amongst the shrub, and even great horned owls or red-shouldered hawks perched above you. 

Woman walking under a canopy of trees next to a stream on a hiking trail in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County

The trail intersects with the Mustard loop, as towering oaks are replaced by rolling grassland hills. Here, look for the marker for Red Rock Canyon (just past the large trail board) and head north through a sandy wash. The striking pinnacles can now be seen; be sure to read the interpretive signs, detailing the history and geological makeup of the red rock canyon—siltstone, sandstone, and mudstone. The captivating crags were sculpted by millions of years of wind and water and now provide us with a captivating landscape: red rocks in Orange County. 

Woman standing at red rock formation in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County

You reach the impressive cliffs in about a half-mile, but you’re likely to feel as if you’ve been transported hundreds of miles away to the likes of Zion or Sedona. You can’t climb the vibrant canyon walls or venture into the narrow gorge, but you will find more than enough awesome vantage points to capture those badlands memories. Now that’s how you rock the burbs! 

Couple taking a selfie in front of a red rock formation in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County

To get to Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and the Borrego Canyon Trailhead, take the I-5 and exit Bake Pkwy. in Irvine and head east. After 5.4 miles, take a left onto Portola Pkwy. and the parking lot will be on your right in just a quarter-mile (across from Ralph’s). No dogs.

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Three Beaches to the Wind

    This beautiful 7-mile (round-trip) coastal hike in the Marin Headlands connects three beaches: Muir Beach, Pirates Cove, and Tennessee Cove.

  2. Muir Woods Through the Backdoor

    A backdoor entrance into Muir Woods? Hike a tranquil trail that starts in Mount Tamalpais State Park and quietly leads into Muir Woods, letting you avoid the busyness of the main parking area.

  3. Cross It Off Your Bucket List

    Crosstown Trail San Francisco may be one of the most beautiful city walks in America, passing through less-visited nooks and crannies while also taking in greatest hits, including mosaic stairways.

  4. Yosemite Magic Trick

    Yosemite’s High Country is magical and without crowds. At a lofty 8,700 feet, Tuolumne Meadows is one of the best trailheads for hiking or backpacking a land of smooth granite domes, high alpine meadows, jagged peaks, and sapphire lakes. Here's a 3-night backpacking itinerary...


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    Sea Change

    Right in time for the balmy fall days, the crowds have left and Monterey Bay Aquarium is at its shoulder season best. Fewer people means relaxing with more room to roam and enjoy the animals, exhibits, and nearby outdoors for biking, hiking, and beaches.

  2. High Sierra Lake Hop

    Situated just north of Yosemite is a High Sierra wonderland that gets a fraction of the crowds and is a fantastic destination for backpacking. The Emigrant Wilderness is 113,000 acres of granite ridges, wildflower-strewn meadows, and cobalt lakes.

  3. Thanks, Annie!

    Annie’s Canyon Trail in the 1,000-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve in Solana Beach includes the most unique quarter-mile you’ve ever maneuvered—through a sandstone slot canyon!

  4. Glam Paddling in Long Beach

    Sea kayaking doesn’t get any more glamorous than paddling the storybook canals around Long Beach’s Naples Island! You thread your way through calm waterways surrounded by luxury ho