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

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