Directions to Trailhead: To hike in this section of Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park you must first sign up with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and they will specify the hiking trailhead location. This hike description is different than most on Brian and Ashley's Hiking Blog because we are going to give two separate sets of directions to two different trailheads, this way you will have directions depending on what trailhead the conservancy is using. There is a third trailhead to the area, but it was damaged from the December 2010 storms and is still under repair. To sign up for the hike through the Irvine Ranch Conservancy click Here.
: To get to the Portola Springs Trailhead for the hike to Orange County's Grand Canyon in Limestone Canyon Regional Park, from the 5 freeway exit at Jeffery Road and head North for about 2.5 miles to Portola Parkway. Make a right onto Portola Parkway and follow Portola Parkway for approximately 3.5 miles to the 241 toll road. Cross over the toll road and the trailhead is on the other side. For those using the toll roads, you can take the Portola Parkway exit off of the 241 toll road, which is near the toll road booths.
Saddleback Mountain, it will turn into Santiago Canyon road. You are going to follow the road for a while. On your way to the tailhead you will pass cooks corner, Modjeska Road, and Silverado Canyon Road. The Augustine Trailhead is not far after you cross over the bridge by Silverado Canyon Road. The trailhead is just before the bridge that goes over the road near Irvine Lake. For a map, look at the provided Google map below. For a hiking trail map of the Limestone Canyon Regional Park (Wilderness Park) and the entire 20,000 acre Irvine Ranch Open Space click Here.
Description of Hike: The hikes in the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park area are some of the most scenic hikes in all of Orange County. Both of these two trail options described on this post are on dirt fire roads and are well maintained by the people at O.C. Parks and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. There is no cost for parking on these hikes but you must sign up for one of the docent lead hikes to the viewing area. Once a month a wilderness access day is offered when you are not required to sign up for one of the docent lead hikes to the area. The docent lead hikes are required because of the sensitive habitat in Limestone Canyon. For a schedule of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy hikes and to find when the wilderness access days are click Here. A couple portions of the hikes have some elevation gain, but nothing like some of the more moderate to strenuous hikes we have written about on Brian and Ashley's Hiking Blog
Further Thoughts: Ashley and I really enjoyed this hike in Limestone Canyon Regional Park for multiple reasons. First was because of the breathtaking scenery on the trail. The hike goes through some of Orange County's best wilderness areas to one of its most spectacular geological formations, the sinks. The sinks are called the "Miniature Grand Canyon of Orange County" and are a beautiful sight to see. The nick name may be a little bit hyperbole, but this is a hike well worth doing, because the views at the sinks are amazing, especially after a good rainy season when everything is green.
The second great thing about this area is the amount of wildlife that is present. While hiking we saw many tracks left by the resident animals. We even had the chance to see deer near the sinks viewing area. You will find that the Irvine Ranch Conservancy has installed motion sensor cameras in the area to documents Orange County's local wildlife. Make sure to always have your camera ready to take pictures of local wildlife while hiking in Limestone Canyon Regional Park.
Another things that we enjoyed about this hike was doing it with a group of dedicated and knowledgeable docent's. Both Ashley and I enjoyed our conversations with them and we learned something new about the plants in the region. When you sign up for a hike, just keep in mind that the docent is knowledgeable about the local area so feel free to ask lots of questions.
The sinks viewing platform is in a great location and looks at a dramatic portion of the sinks. The sinks were carved by a landslide that was either caused by a major storm or fault movement. There are many hikes in this area of Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park and you can make a loop of the hike from the Augustine trailhead by taking the Loma Ridge trail back to the Augustine trailhead. Make sure to carry with you plenty of water and sunscreen if you do this hike during the summer, as it can get warm and shade is only present in certain locations along the trail. The viewing observation deck is a great place to eat lunch as well as enjoy the cool breeze that rushes up through the canyon. Limestone Canyon is designated as a Wilderness Park by both OC Parks and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, however for some reasons Google still refers to it as a Regional Park, that is why there is oscillation between the terms in this post.
Rating: From Portola Trailhead: Elevation Gain: 800 ft. (Easy), Distance: 5.5 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate). From the Augustine Trailhead: Elevation Gain: 550 ft. (Easy), Distance: 7.6 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).
Time to Complete Hike: From the Portola Trailhead: 2 - 3 hours. From the Augustine Trailhead: 3 - 4 hours.
MORE TRAIL WRITE-UPS ON LIMESTONE CANYON WILDERNESS PARK
The Sinks (Orange County's Grand Canyon)(This Post)
Shoestring/West Loma/Haul Road Loop
View Limestone Canyon Wilderness (The Sinks) in a larger map