Hot Dams!

Hike to Historic Dams at Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange County

Woman sitting at a bench along a path overlooking Villa Park Dam at Santiago Oaks Regional Park

Hot dam! Make that a double. Head to Santiago Oaks Regional Park for the best dam hike in Orange County. This 3.5-mile loop goes through riparian and chaparral environments with mountain vistas, local history, and two impressive dams.

Download the map (or pick it up at the park) and park at the lot ($3 weekdays, $5 weekends) for this journey through 1,269 acres of park with a diverse and expansive multi-use trail system. There’s plentiful interpretive and directional signage throughout the hikes, and you can get a sneak peek with a stop at the nature center, with picnic areas and restrooms. First, head for the wide dirt trail at the south end of the lot and take the northernmost path heading east, labeled the Historic Dam Trail.

After about a quarter-mile on the shaded path along Santiago Creek, you reach a small pond and the historic dam site. The dam was originally constructed by the famous Bixby family in the late 19th century, and the current small structure of river rock and cement has been around since 1892. It’s a serene setting, especially with the hypnotic babble of flowing water.

Woman hiking a wide trail at Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange County

Continue as the trail u-turns and climbs to a 4-way junction. Take the path to the right and get on the Santiago Creek Trail, which eventually reaches another junction with a rest area and interpretive sign detailing the historic namesake oaks. Stay on the Santiago Creek Trail at the next two junctions and you eventually reach the junction with the looping Mountain Goat Trail for those who want to challenge themselves to get bigger views.

Woman hiking at Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange County

The large modern Villa Park Dam looms directly in front of you. Serving primarily as flood control downstream from the historic dam, this massive project was completed in 1963 and regulates flow of Santiago Creek into the Santa Ana River. After admiring the views (and doing the Mountain Goat workout for those up for a challenge), head northwest on the Bobcat Meadow Trail and take the second junction on your right for the Sage Ridge Trail. This path offers great views of the dams and the rest of the park and eventually connects with the perpendicular Oak Trail. 

Woman hiking on a trail at Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange County

Take a right onto the Oak Trail followed by an immediate left on the Wilderness Trail (note: feel free to take any side trails for further exploration into this truly massive regional park). Ignore junctions to continue the loop via the 0.5-mile Wilderness Trail, which eventually u-turns as it connects back up with the Santiago Creek Trail. You’ll eventually reach a wooden staircase that deposits you back at the trailhead and your car.

To get to Santiago Oaks Regional Park, take the CA-55 (via a number of connecting freeways—I-5, CA-91, CA-22, etc.) to the Katella Ave. exit. After 0.7 mile, the road becomes Villa Park Rd. and then Santiago Canyon Rd. After 2.5 miles, turn left onto N. Windes Dr. and take it 0.75 mile to the park entrance and parking lot. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Sebastopol Food & Wine Roll

    One apple farm, three charming towns, multiple wineries, and infinite natural beauty. Savor a perfect autumn day in Sonoma County by biking the West County Regional Trail from Sebastopol to Forestville via Graton. It’s a 17-mile (round-trip) adventure. 

  2. Hiker taking a photo of sunset at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve

    Sunshine and Skyline

    Head to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve for a 4-mile out-and-back hike on the Bay Area Ridge Trail that offers a front-row seat to spectacular sunsets.

  3. Hike Los Trancos Open Space Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains

    Light of Los Trancos

    In autumn, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve lights up with orange-red maples, yellow hazelnut, and deciduous oaks, making this 2.5-mile hike in the Santa Cruz mountains a wonder-fall destination.

  4. Sponsored

    Center of Attention

    Central Oregon is home to the craft beer capital of the US, the Deschutes River, and trails for every kind of outdoor adventure: hiking, skiing, paddling, biking, and—of course—relaxing at fire pits.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Secret Stair Master!

    Step up to a wonderful 2-mile, nearly 1000-step workout in peaceful Pasadena that is part leg labor, part suburban stroll, and all serene secret.

  2. Hiker at Dos Picos County Park in San Diego County

    Dos Picos

    The 1.4-mile loop around Dos Picos County Park is a small yet mighty gem in northern San Diego County. It's gentle and packs a bunch of scenery.

  3. U-pick and Hike

    Some of the most delicious anywhere grow on trees high up in the San Bernardino Mountains in the town of Oak Glen, where Los Rios Rancho, So Cal’s largest historic apple ranch, grows 32 varieties, all completely organic, and available as u-picks.

  4. Hike to an epic vista in the San Gabriels via the Colby Trail in Glendora

    Do It for a Donut!

    Why bust your legs on this 2.25-mile hike in the San Gabriels? Two words: Donuts. Donuts. Okay, you’ll also get great views and a fine workout, but we guarantee that the treat alone merits the trek.