In October of 2017, the Canyon Fire 2 blazed through Orange County, destroying portions of some of the local regional parks, over 9,000 acres of land, and 25 structures. Three of the areas popular regional parks suffered significant damage – Santiago Oaks Regional Park, Irvine Regional Park, and Peters Canyon Regional Park.
Firefighters were able to save the OC Zoo and the structures within Irvine Regional Park, but 475 acres of the natural wildlands around the perimeter of the park were damaged. Peters Canyon, a popular spot for walkers from the nearby neighborhood homes, suffered damage to 50% of its 340 acres. Santiago Oaks suffered damage to over 1,200 acres of land.
Santiago Oaks is one of our favorite places for hiking. We love exploring the trails, taking a break at the Historic Dam to spot turtles and skip rocks, and having lunch at the playground. We were saddened by the devastation and closures, but thankful that our firefighters were able to save so much land and so many homes. The scenario could have been much worse.
With the trails being closed, our regular trips to Santiago Oaks came to a halt. We didn’t visit the park at all in 2018. But after several months of rain, a dry and sunny weekend led us back to our favorite stomping ground to see the wildflowers and butterflies.
The hillsides were thick and green. Yellow and purple wildflowers blanketed the area hiding the burnt trunks of scorched oak trees. Mini waterfalls flowed over the walls of the Historic Dam, which was full – the waterline now sits a good six feet back from the last time we visited, and the rocks the kids used to stand on to look for fish and turtles are now completely submerged. The trails were still there, well marked and easy to navigate. The playground still stood, and the nature center was open.
Santiago Oaks is back to the gem it was. New life has consumed the park. And the superbloom of wildflowers combined with the painted lady butterflies that fluttered around us as we hiked our favorite trails almost made us forget that the area was nearly destroyed a year and a half ago. The only reminder was the blackened branches of a few trees that stood off in the distance, surrounded by thick green grass and colorful flowers.
A few of the trails are still closed at Santiago Oaks including the Windes Nature Trail and the Pacifica Trail, but many of the old favorites are once again open and ready for hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Dogs are also welcome at Santiago Oaks but are required to be on leash at all times.