Saddleback Wilderness Park is one of the newest parks located in Orange County, just a few miles away from North Tustin. The park offers a variety of activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
This outdoor sanctuary is perfect for those who want to unplug for a day and enjoy everything nature has to offer. In addition to the many trails the park has, there’s some absolutely stunning views of the rest of Orange County and the ocean when you reach the top of the mountain.
So whether you’re a trail-novice or experienced hiker, there’s something for everyone. Plus, the park offers a variety of amenities to make your visit more enjoyable. So if you’re looking for a great day out in nature, Saddleback Wilderness Park is the perfect place for you.
Address: 3066 Santiago Canyon Road, Orange, CA 92869
Park Hours: 8:00 am – 3:30 pm on Wilderness Access Days
Parking: Free, located off of Santiago Canyon Road. Horse trailer parking is available
Restrooms: Available in main parking area
Dogs: Not permitted
Although Saddleback Wilderness Park just opened in early spring of 2023, the land has a deep and rich history within Orange County.
Originally Saddleback Motocross Park, this area was opened in 1967 as a park by and for MX riders to utilize. It quickly became one of the most popular spots in Southern California for motorcycle riders for years.
The park wasn’t only popular with motorcycles though, as many off-roaders in ATVs and trucks loved to use the grounds as well. Eventually, the park closed in 1984 due to liability issues with the owners.
Now, almost 40 years later, the park has reopened under the supervision of OC Parks and is now home to many different wildlife species and native plants as a nature preserve. Visitors can now enjoy hiking and mountain biking, as well as birdwatching and photography.
Saddleback wilderness park has plenty to do for visitors. The park offers scenic views, hiking trails, and picnic areas. And for equestrians, horseback riding is allowed on all but one trail!
There are five trails within Saddleback Wilderness Park, but the trails listed below interconnect into a 3.3-mile trail that runs along the whole park, so you can explore the whole park at your own pace.
Hilltop Road is one of the two easy trails that Saddleback offers. This mile-long trail open to hikers, bikers, and horses takes you around a majority of the park, including the scenic overlook where you can stop and rest while taking in the view.
Trail 1 is the beginning of the moderate trails. This trail winds through the heart of the mountain and intersects with Hilltop Road and Trail 3. This trail is also open to horses, hikers, and bikers.
Trail two is similar to trail one in terms of difficulty and what is allowed on the trail, the main difference is that the route takes you on the east side of the mountain, so you can get a different view of the wildlife and plants around you.
Last on the list of moderate trails is trail 3, this trail is the longest of the moderate trails and is open to hikers and bikers. The trail begins in the middle of Hilltop Road, and gives another unique path up to the scenic outlook. This trail does have more twists and turns than the other moderate trails, so we recommend sturdy running or hiking shoes.
Ending on an easy route, the Upland Road trail is a great choice for those who want to have a quick loop around the park and then get back to the main entrance to enjoy a picnic. This trail is open to horses, bikers, and hikers, and does a small loop around the east side of the mountain.
Providing stunning views of the entire county and the Pacific Ocean, the scenic overlook at Saddleback Wilderness Park is one of its best features. The overlook is easily accessible and is a great spot to stop and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Located at the base of the mountain, the picnic area is the perfect spot to relax and take a break after hiking, or to enjoy a snack with family or friends before heading on the trail. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and ample parking.
Saddleback Wilderness Park is a wonderful place to unplug and connect with friends and family, as well as nature, but there are a few things that you should know before you make your way to the park itself.
First, it is important to be aware of the times and days that Saddleback Wilderness Park is open. Typically the Wilderness Access Days where the park is open without a tour or prior registration are on the 3rd or 4th Saturday of every month. (The OC parks website has exact dates and times!)
If you’re bringing horses with you, they recommend that you reach out to them directly at [email protected] to coordinate parking for your horse trailer. Otherwise, parking is on a first come first served basis for free.
Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen with you when you visit the park, and it is very important to stay on designated trails at all times while you’re there so you don’t disrupt the wildlife or plants.
Lastly, enjoy the trails. Make sure to take plenty of photos and enjoy the natural scenery. Respect the rules of the park and don’t forget to leave no trace behind. Have fun!
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Morgan Mulac is a freelance writer who has spent years on the road as a nomad and now has settled back in California with her family. Some of her favorite spots to travel to in California are in Orange County and the many beaches along the coast. She’s an avid writer about her journeys and enjoys sharing the beauty California has to offer.