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