This hike combines two awesome parks via a steep connector trail that is accurately named "Stairsteps". The hike begins with a 5-mile gentle grade for a warm up, followed by steeps climbs and descents, views of the Pacific, and a gentle return for easy cool down. The terrain varies from smooth fire road to rocky boulder fields, exposed ridge line to wooded singletrack. It makes a great long day hike to. There are three especially fun and long (1 mile +) downhill segments with just the right grade to fly down without falling on your face.
There is water available at Laguna Canyon Park Willow Staging area (about 7 miles from the start). You'll pass that same water source again about 2/3 of the way through the hike, so no need to carry more than a single water bottle for refills.
The trail begins at the Aliso Wood Canyon Trail
entrance and parking. The lot is $3/day or free parking is available on the street).The hike begins with a paved path or dirt path running parallel, for 1.5 miles to the first turn onto Wood Canyon Trail
. This portion is mostly flat, with a gradual climb and few steep, short climbs. It's a mix of open and wooded space, so shade is intermittent.
Continue until about 4.5 miles from the start, and turn left up Coyote Run Trail
. This is the first long, steep climb. After puking a lung, it's over, and you turn left to resume gentle climbing along the West Ridge Trail
. The ridge is open with nice views back to the east of south Orange County out to the foothills. Continue climbing along the West Ridge Trail
until just after a sharp left bend, at the first small peak, and find Stair Steps
to your right. It goes down. Quickly. Watch your step, and be wary of mountain bikers descending after you; they will be moving very fast and collisions hurt.
After the water tower, you'll finish Stair Steps
on pavement, leading down to Laguna Canyon Road 133. Turn right, and cross the street at the Laguna Canyon Park Willow Staging Area. Head straight up the first trail you see, Willow Canyon Trail
. A small fork to your left goes to the Park Ranger trailer, and at that fork is a water spigot where you can refill water bottles. You'll pass by this same point again before heading back up Stair Steps
to Aliso Wood Canyon, so don't worry about getting too thirsty or needing to carry a lot. Climb Willow Canyon Trail
to the top of the ridge, then turn left onto Bommer Ridge Road
As you continue, you'll gain views of the ocean and surrounding hills. Look back on Aliso Wood Canyon and the West Ridge Trail
to see how far you've come, and how much further it is to get home. Turn right onto Old Emerald Trail
and enjoy a nice smooth singletrack down to recharge your legs. At the bottom, turn right and climb Emerald Canyon Road
. It'll start in a nice, wooded area, and gradually gets more exposed as you regain the ridge. You'll connect again with Bommer Ridge Road
. Head left and continue climbing. Enjoy the ocean views to your left, Orange County views to your right, and this trail is a wide fire road, so relax and get ready for the next long downhill stretch. Keep an eye out for Lizard Trail
to you right.
Enter Lizard Trail
and enjoy the longest continuous downhill section on this route. Lizard is a nice singletrack that winds through live oaks and eventually drops you back onto the Laurel Canyon Trail
, where you'll continue the downhill journey through more wooded areas, across boulder fields, and eventually back to the Laguna Canyon Park entrance. Grab some more water, take a break, and make your way back across Laguna Canyon Road for the climb back up Stair Steps
. If you can hike up this one, you're a champ. I generally slow down on this section to save my legs for one more really long and phenomenally fun downhill segment.
After cresting the ridge again, turn right onto West Ridge Trail
, and continue to the bottom of that first small hill. The right fork will continue up the hill, and you'll take the left fork onto Rock-It Trail
. A short distance in, you'll pass an electrical tower, and the singletrack fun begins. This section is smooth and winding with lots of little switchbacks, and the grade is just right for taking the brakes off and moving fast. Take advantage of bermed tight turns to maintain your momentum.
When you reach the rocky field (very obvious, you'll know you're there), you can brave the boulders, or take the little dirt path along the right side (there may be another worn path along the left side as well) for a smoother hike. A full 1.2 miles from the top, you hit bottom, and turn right onto Coyote Run Trail
to continue the fast track until Coyote Run Trail
ends. Turn left and continue over the stream and about 100 feet to Wood Canyon Trail
. Turn right, and retrace your steps back to the main parking lot where you started 20 miles ago.
Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, there are plenty of them on all trails here. Also rabbits, coyotes, deer, and an occasional bobcat.