Announcing the Orange County (California) History Hikes program!

Are you a history geek like me?  Or just an outdoors enthusiast who likes to learn more about the history behind some of our magnificent open spaces?

The Orange County Historical Society (OCHS), established in 1919, has kicked off an exciting new “OC History Hikes” public program.

To help expose, educate and connect people to Orange County’s fascinating history, the Orange County Historical Society [OCHS] is launching a new program — Orange County History Hikes. These hikes will take place at least a couple times per year, and are open to the public. Each hike will showcase an Orange County historical destination, allowing history and hiking enthusiasts to see some of these destinations in a new way. Hikes will vary in distance, topography and difficulty, but will stay within a range that most reasonably fit people can accomplish.

Jeff and I are members of OCHS, and serve on the new committee that is coordinating this program. The other members of the History Hikes committee are Karin Klein (Orange County naturalist, author and LA Times writer) and Phil Brigandi (author and Orange County & Southern California historian).

Inaugural History Hike: Exploring San Juan Hot Springs

The committee selected a very easy hike to launch the new History Hikes program — a super short hike out to San Juan Hot Springs, a part of Caspers Wilderness Park not generally open to public access.

  • Date and Time: Sunday, November 20, 2011 (10am-12pm)
  • Location: San Juan Hot Springs, Caspers Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 1 mile round-trip
  • Elevation: 100 foot total elevation gain
  • Event Fee: None (limited to 25 people)
  • Parking Fee: None (12 vehicles max, so carpooling necessary)
  • Meeting Spot: Hot Springs Parking lot (see Directions).

Special Instructions: Must be 7 years of age or older. Dogs are not permitted. Please bring water, sunscreen, a hat and sturdy closed-toe shoes.

Reservations Required: Please contact Caspers Park Office Technician Cindi Morgan at (949) 923-2207 or to reserve your spot. You must identify yourself as going on the “historical society hike” since this date is not part of the park’s regular event listings.

Please feel welcome to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy with the group after the hike. There are some picnic tables and benches available, but you might want to pack chairs or a blanket.

Check the OCHS Facebook page for full details and directions!

We initially didn’t think we’d be able to pull together a well-promoted group hike by the end of the year, however, Karin regularly leads this same hike once a month on behalf of the Park. So, she was able to get Caspers to set aside this particular date for just our program participants, and they’re even handling the reservations for us.

Although this hike is a bit too short to count as a “real hike” in my book, we did feel it important to make at least the first event one easy enough for just about anyone to attend.  So, in order to up our hiking miles that day, Jeff and I plan to head further into Caspers for additional trailblazing after we picnic with the group and wrap up the event — please feel free to join us!

San Juan Hot Springs, circa 1920

San Juan Hot Springs, circa 1920. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

And although this hike is really short, it’s packed with some pretty cool history!

For more than 60 years, San Juan Hot Springs was one of Orange County’s most popular vacation spots. The springs had been known and utilized for centuries, by local Indians, Spanish missionaries, and Mexican rancheros, but it was not until the 1870s that a resort was developed there. It eventually grew to include rental cottages, a dining room, a small store, pools for swimming and soaking, and even a dance hall. In the 1890s, tourists could also get their mail at the nearby Talega Post Office (now the site of the Lazy W Methodist camp). Each summer, hundred of vacationers and health-seekers visited the springs. The resort finally closed in 1936. Some of the buildings were moved down to San Juan Capistrano, where a few still survive.
— Phil Brigandi

San Juan Hot Springs

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

San Juan Hot Springs, circa 1890

San Juan Hot Springs, circa 1890. Courtesy Anaheim Public Library.

Future OC History Hikes

Jeff, Phil, Karin and I are already working on some really cool hikes for next year.

While these hikes will continue to be open to the public (not just society members), I do encourage you to join OCHS if these types of hikes interest you because we plan to start giving OCHS members priority registration for future History Hikes.  You can download a membership form from their website or pick one up at the hike. An annual membership is $20 for an individual or $35.00 for a family (other options are available too).

So…where would YOU like to see OC History Hikes go next???

Featured photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

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