Dripping History

Hike to Dripping Cave in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

Historical hideout, hidden hollow, rustlers’ retreat. Whatever you want to call Dripping Cave in Laguna Nigel, it is truly a cool, compelling cavern. To reach the grandiose grotto, take a 5-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, a 4,500-acre public sanctuary in Orange County.

Park at the visitor center and explore the brief native-flora loop as you stretch your legs before heading west on the Aliso Creek Trail. The paved path is open to bikers as well (our wheeled friends can ride almost all the way to the cave) as it gradually descends into the canyon along the creek bed, surrounded by rolling hills and interpretive signs.

Look out for mule deer who bound among the sage, and blooming purple artichoke plants rising from the meadows. Note that there is very little shade for the first 1.5 miles, so start early or bring protection. The junction for Wood Canyon Trail comes at a portable toilet and picnic area among towering gnarly oaks, a common sight for the remainder of the trek.

Dripping Cave Hike Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

Turn right and continue north until you reach a junction notating Cave Rock on your left. Take this for a brief detour to your first accessible cave, a sandstone cavity along the hillside. Head back to the trail and continue north until the next junction—the path to Dripping Cave and the spot to leave your bikes if you brought them.

Legend has it that 19th-century livestock thieves used this natural chamber as a hideout. You’ll see remnants of holes in the sandstone roof used for pegs to hold supplies. It’s easy to conjure images of the cave’s onetime nefarious dwellers. Today, the geological sanctuary is a perfect way to steal away from the sun and city life. When it’s time to return to the present, head back to Wood Canyon Trail, stopping at the short boardwalk over the babbling stream before trekking the 2.5 miles back to the visitor center and parking lot.

To get to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park visitor center and parking lot, take the I-5 to the Alicia Pkwy. exit heading west. After nearly 4 miles, turn right onto Awma Rd., following signs for the park. Street parking (free) lines the road, and the lot (fee) and trailhead are just ahead on your left. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Up Umunhum

    Rising from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Umunhum is one of the Bay Area’s highest points, reaching an impressive 3,486 feet. With the new 7.4-mile (round-trip) addition to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, locals can finally step up to its peak.

  2. 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.

  3. Kirby Your Enthusiasm

    Just west of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin is one of the Bay's most-accessible secluded beaches. Kirby Cove is accessed by hiking or biking a 1-mile fire road down to the beach, where the reward is an all-time classic Golden Gate view.

  4. Napa's Wild Side

    It’s wine country’s Amazon. Cutting 50 miles through the famous Napa Valley and emptying into San Pablo Bay, the gentle Napa River is an ecological—and recreational—delight. And Napa Valley Paddle helps you enjoy it.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    Weekend Sherpa Podcast: Take it Outside

    Adventure for your earbuds. What's new in the world of the outdoors? Listen to Weekend Sherpa co-founders discuss local hikes, beaches, bike rides, camping spots and all kinds of travel and adventure in California and beyond!

  2. Secret Trail at Torrey Pines

    Find cliff climbs, sandy strolls, and secret hikes throughout “America’s finest sandy stretch" at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego County.

  3. Secluded Royale

    Panoramic coastal views and a killer leg workout combine on this 2.7-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike to secluded Coast Royale Beach in Orange County

  4. Border Field State Park

    Border Field State Park is the southernmost point in California as well as one of the last beautiful undeveloped coastlines in the state. Visit this natural refuge for a 4.5-mile hike featuring important history and wildlife habitats, plus stunning SoCal beach scenery.