Hiking may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Laguna Beach, but it turns out this city is home to many scenic trails of varying lengths and difficulty. I live nearby, so hiking in Laguna Beach is one of my favorite past times.
Regardless of which trail you try, you’ll be guaranteed great views. Some trails roll up and down through the coastal canyons while others provide sweeping ocean views. If you’re fortunate enough to be here in the spring or early summer, you’ll enjoy fields of yellow, orange and purple wildflowers.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
While trails can be found in a few places throughout the city, I’ve chosen to focus on the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. This 7,000 acres preserve is home to some of the last remaining coastal canyons in California and connects with the larger South Coast Regional Wilderness. There are a total of 40 miles of trails here that play host to hikers, cyclists, and horses.
The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is located along Laguna Canyon Road which can be accessed off the 405 freeway or the 133 Toll Road. If you’re coming on a weekend, arrive early to get a parking place and don’t forget to pay the $3 fee.
Here's What To Do In Laguna Beach after your hike.
Trail One–Little Sycamore
If you’re new to the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, then your first stop should be at Nix Nature Center. Here you’ll learn about the park, it’s wildlife, and have access to rangers to answer questions. You’ll also find the only bathrooms and water fountains in the park. (Currently the Nix Nature Center is closed due to COVID-19, but the parking and trails are open)
The first trail I recommend here is Little Sycamore which then connects to Serrano Ridge. The first mile of Little Sycamore is seriously steep so be prepared. Jason and I had to stop a few times to catch our breath. At the top you have the option to follow Serrano Ridge in two directions. Combined, you can hike at least five miles on these two trails, or go further by continuing on adjoining ones.
At times you’ll see nothing but the canyon filled with lush plant life while at the top you’ll be treated to views of the nearby cities. There isn’t much shade along this route, so do use sunscreen and a hat and bring water.
Trail Two–Stagecoach South
Stagecoach South can also be accessed from the Nix Nature Center. Instead of the steep and steady ascent of Little Sycamore, this curvy trail rolls up to the peak more gently, and then continues its back and forth decline to the end. Along this trail you’re treated to panoramic views of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.
The out-and-back Stagecoach South Trail is 4.5 miles and rated moderate. Like many Laguna Beach hiking trails, mountain bikes are permitted on this trail, but none were present on the day I was here. Since this trail is quite narrow, I’m not sure I’d want to hike it if there were too many bikes present.
Trail Three–Laurel Canyon
Laguna Beach hiking doesn’t get any better than the Laurel Canyon trail which can be accessed at the Willow Canyon Staging Area. As I was arriving, most people were headed to the Willow Canyon trail, so it took me a moment to find the correct trail marker.
The start of the trail follows the Laguna Canyon Road, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue since it was rather noisy. But then the trail dips into a lush and quiet meadow and from there it becomes better and better. Even though spring has ended, there were still plenty of wildflowers in bloom. While visiting with other hikers I learned that there’s even a waterfall along this trail during winters with heavy rains.
Laurel Canyon is a 1.5 mile, out-and-back trail that is rated moderate. There are a few gentle slopes along the way as well as rocks to climb. At the conclusion, there are other trails that can be accessed if you’d like to extend your hike. Only hikers are permitted on this trail.
Trail Four–Willow Canyon
If you’re looking for something more challenging than Laurel Canyon, then opt for Willow Canyon which can be accessed from the same parking lot. For most of the 1.5 miles you’ll climb uphill, with some very steep portions. Understandably, this trail has been rated as difficult. On the way up I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings, but on the way back down I enjoyed all the wildflowers as well as a bit of wildlife like rabbits, birds and butterflies.
At the top of Willow Canyon, take either a left or right onto Bommer Ridge and extend your hike for a few miles. It’s along this trail that you can enjoy expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Both Willow Canyon and Bommer Ridge are shared by hikers and cyclists, so be aware of who’s on the trail and give bikes their space.
Trail Five–Big Bend
By now you’ll probably notice that most of the Laguna Beach hikes recommended in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park are steep, and Big Bend is no different. And once again this 1.5 mile trail is considered difficult. You can access it at the Big Bend Staging area.
Even from the parking lot it’s obvious that this hike is going to start out tough. But if you’re willing to brave this trail, you’ll then have access to the easier Bommer Ridge trail along with the panoramic views of the ocean. There isn’t much shade along these two trails, so be sure to apply sunscreen, wear a hat and bring plenty of water.
Why You Should Be Hiking In Laguna Beach
Along some of the Laguna Wilderness Park trails you’ll see sign-posts along with a phone number to dial to learn more about the area. Definitely take a few moments to call and listen to the recorded message. You’ll learn about the plant and wildlife in the park along with some of the history.
As drivers speed through this portion of Laguna on the way to the beach, most have no idea that this preserve is home to a biodiversity hotspot similar to the Amazon Rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef. If you live in the area, or are visiting, take some time to explore the park along it’s forty miles of maintained trails. You won’t regret it!