Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bell Canyon Trail/East Ridge Loop (Caspers Wilderness Park)

Caspers Wilderness Park is an 8,000-acre protected preserve nestled among the river terraces and sandstone canyons of the western coastal Santa Ana Mountains. Caspers Wilderness Park's fertile valleys are complemented by groves of native Coastal Live Oak and large stands of California Sycamore. Seasonal wildflower displays and running streams add to this wilderness parks rich beauty, and abundant wildlife can be seen at Caspers Wilderness Park. Ashley and I recently hiked at Caspers Wilderness Park and were not disappointed. We hiked a portion of the Bell Canyon Trail and the East Ridge to make a fun loop. Caspers Wilderness Park is located off of Ortega Highway and backs into the Cleveland National Forest. In our opinion, Caspers Wilderness Park is the best Wilderness Park in Orange County that we have been too. It is truly a gem in Orange County and is a great location to go hiking in Orange County.

Directions to Trailhead: Going to Caspers Wilderness Park from Orange County take the Ortega Highway heading toward Riverside. A couple of miles past Antonio Parkway is Caspers Wilderness Park. There are signs alerting drivers as to where to turn to enter the park. The turn to enter into Caspers Wilderness Park is on your left side. The address for Caspers Wilderness Park is 33401 Ortega Hwy.( P. O. Box 395) San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675. The parks phone number is (949) 923-2210. The trailhead for the Bell Canyon Trail/East Ridge Loop is located at the farthest parking area by the historic windmill. 

Description of Hike: There are many hiking trails in Caspers Wilderness Park which allow any hiker to make their hike as easy or strenuous as they would like. A map of the hiking trail system at the park can be found Here. Ashley and I took the Quail Run Trail to the East Ridge Trail and did the Bell Canyon Trail/East Ridge Loop hike. We followed the East Ridge Trail and made a left at the Sun Rise Trail which intersects with the Bell Canyon Trail where made a right and made a left and returned to the parking lot using the Oak Trail. The trip was approximately 5 miles with about a 400 foot elevation gain. This hike is a nice loop that gives you a quick overview of Caspers Wilderness Park. Caspers Wilderness Park has many hiking options and you can tailor your hike to your needs. Make sure you print out a trail map or pick one up at the entrance gate when you enter Caspers Wilderness Park.

Camping is also available year round at Caspers Wilderness Park and you can make online reservations for spaces or reservations at the entrance gate. Caspers Wilderness Park is open from 7am to sunset all year. Parking costs 3 dollars Monday through Friday and 5 dollars Saturday and Sunday. Caspers Wilderness Park is an 8,000 acre wilderness preserved that is located next to the Trabuco District of the Cleveland National Forest. The park also has a Nature Center, which is fun for the entire family, that is open on the weekends. Caspers Wilderness Park contains 35 miles of trails and offers plenty of opportunities for great Orange County Hiking. The Caspers Wilderness Park brochure can be found Here.

Further Thoughts: First, Ashley and I loved the fact that there were many Rangers at the park. They were very nice, informative, and helpful. Second, this park has a ton of wildlife. We saw tons of deer tracks everywhere in the park. We did not see any deer, but there must be a lot of deer there in addition to other animals. We also saw several families of quail, many ground squirrels, woodpeckers, we saw about six turkey vultures, we saw mountain lion tracks at Caspers Wilderness Park (could possibly be a large bobcat), and we saw several big bird nests in the park. Lastly, the trails in this park are well marked at it was easy to navigate our way around Caspers Wilderness Park. 

We spent a little time talking with one of the rangers in the park and a research group was in the park the week before we were. The group was from UC-Davis and they were doing a study on the population of mountain lions in the state of California, which also includes our local Santa Ana Mountains. While the researchers were at Caspers Wilderness Park they tagged a mother mountain lion and her cub. That would have been a great sight to see. I can definitely understand why Mountain Lions frequent Caspers Wilderness Park because there are a lot of deer which is their primary food source in Orange County.

Ashley and I enjoyed our hike at Caspers Wilderness Park and did a loop of about 5 miles. There are many trails and OC Parks keeps them in great shape. Caspers also has 3 campgrounds in the park that are very well maintained. We hiked along the eastern ridge trail which is virtually in the middle of the park. It has spectacular views of the Santa Ana Mountains. Because of the rain a couple of days before we went hiking we could see many tracks while we were out there. This park is beautiful anytime of year, but is especially beautiful during a good rainy season.

It was absolutely amazing to see the amount of wildlife we saw and the tracks they left. This wilderness park is truly a gem in Orange County and we will visit again soon. The picture up top is a picture of the Historic Windmill at the park, the next picture is a picture of one of the two families of quail we saw, the next is a picture of a hawk on a stump, then one of us, then one of a ground squirrel and the rest are from the trails. While we were there we also heard, but did not see one of the endangered arroyo toads while we were near one of the creek beds. Caspers also has a nature center that is open on the weekends. It is also a location that is known for having good wildflowers after a wet rainy season in Southern California.

Rating: This Wilderness Park has multiple trails and different hiking options for everyone. You can make your hike as easy or as difficult as you like. Our Hike: Elevation Gain: 400 ft (Easy), Distance: 5 Miles Roundtrip (Easy - Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 2 - 3 hours.


Bell Canyon Trail

Bell Canyon Trail/East Ridge Loop (This Post)

San Juan Hot Springs

View Untitled in a larger map


  1. Yes, Caspers is the jewel of the OC Wilderness Parks. The oaks and varied terrain make for an interesting day which you so rightly state can be as strenuous or relaxing as you like.

    I've seen deer, racoon, snakes and even a well-nourished bobcat while hiking there. The nature center is a good place to bring youngsters and folks not accustomed to the outdoors.

    We brought relatives from the midwest to hike with us during a recent visit. They were surprised to find "wilderness" practically in our backyard.

    Oh yeah, bird watching is superb here.

  2. we love Caspers and have been going there for the last year about 3 times a month.. everyone from the rangers to fellow hikers, bikers and horse riders are so nice.. The Rangers have a lot of information and advice to offer and nothing is too much trouble.
    we have seen loads of deer, hawks, vultures, wood rats, squirrel, rabbits, gopher snakes. I love the trails you can be hiking in the desert with cactus and sand then you're walking over a rocking creek then the woods.. as I said WE LOVE IT... and would recommend this park to anyone.


Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.