Hiking Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park: Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon


Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park: Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon

Date Hiked: August 22, 2009
Best Season: Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Whiting Ranch Park (949) 923-2245
  • Distance: 4 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Route Type: Out-and-Back
  • Trail Type: Dirt
  • Difficulty: Moderate

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One of the parks that was pretty much in my backyard when I lived in Lake Forest, before Jeff and I married, is Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park.  Although a trail ran directly from my condo complex to the park, and although I’d driven past the park entrance on a weekly basis, I never visited Whiting Ranch until after we married.  Jeff and I brought the kids here on August 22, 2009, the first weekend after our honeymoon, to hike out to Red Rocks — beautiful sandstone cliff formations that are embedded with fossils.

The easiest way to get to Red Rocks is a short (4 mile round-trip) hike starting at the Borrego Canyon trailhead off Portola Parkway in Foothill Ranch, California.  Park in the little lot next to the Ralph’s shopping center.  Parking is $3 per vehicle, or you can purchase an annual OCParks pass.

Borrego Canyon Trail is a dirt path lined on both sides by housing tracts on top of steep canyon walls.  Despite the nearby homes, the trail feels quite secluded, and is very popular with hikers and mountain bikers (mountain bikers may only ride the trail one-way, into the park).  The trail roughly follows a small creek and is dotted with shrub and chaparral, which is broken up by occasional shady groves of like oaks.  Take advantage of these shady spots, because the majority of the hike out to Red Rocks is very exposed and hot during warm weather.

After almost 1-1/2 miles, Borrego Canyon Trail intersects with Mustard Road, a wide fire road.  Turn right on Mustard Road.  Shortly after passing a picnic site, you will see Red Rock Trail (the second trail on the left).  Follow the trail through a narrow exposed ravine until you reach the Red Rock sandstone formations.

Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park: Borrego Trail to Red Rock Trail (view larger map)

Whiting Ranch Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon

Stands of cattails greet you near the Borrego Canyon trailhead.

Whiting Ranch Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon

Borrego Canyon, which shows evidence of past fires, feel surprisingly secluded despite being surrounded by housing tracks.

Whiting Ranch Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon

Most of the trail is quite exposed, so a hat is definitely recommended during warmer weather.

Whiting Ranch Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon

However, occasional groves of live oaks provide much-needed shady spots along Borrego Canyon Trail.

Whiting Ranch Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon

The transition from Borrego Canyon Trail to Mustard Road to Red Rock Canyon Trail takes you out of the oak groves into a dry rocky wash.

Whiting Ranch Red Rock IMG_0578

The approach to Red Rock Canyon, a very exposed rocky shrub environment, is definitely the hottest section of the hike.

Whiting Ranch Borrego Canyon to Red Rock

These beautiful red sandstone formations reflect such interesting light. Definitely get up close, because there are fossils embedded in the sandstone.

Whiting Ranch Borrego Canyon to Red Rock Canyon

Enjoying the beautiful sandstone topography surrounding us.

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  1. Chris says

    As of a couple weeks ago, Borrego Trail was heavily damaged by flooding. I was told it could be a while before it’s open again.


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