Laguna Coast Wilderness Park (James Dilley Preserve)

The James Dilley Preserve is a protected area that is part of the 20,000 acre South Coast Wilderness in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. This is a great hike in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and is must do for any Orange County Hiker. The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park's James Dilley Preserve contains the only natural lakes in Orange County and is a short hike/car ride away from the Nix Nature Center.

Directions to Trailhead: Directions to the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park's James Dilley Preserve trailhead: From the San Diego Freeway (405) in Irvine, exit onto the Laguna Freeway (133), which becomes Laguna Canyon Road. Drive south a couple miles to the signed entrance for the James Dilley Preserve on the left (east) side of the road and park in the dirt lot. The preserve entrance is just north of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (73 toll road). A map of the area can be found Here. The James Dilley Preserve is indicated by the DP on the OC Parks trail map of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Description of Hike: The hike from the trailhead of the James Dilley Preserve to Barbara's lake is about 3.5 miles roundtrip with approximately 300 feet of elevation gain. There are a couple of other hiking options from the trailhead to the lake which are shorter, however our hike detailed on the Google map below highlights a great overview of this section of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Trail maps are provided at the trailhead which highlight the different trails that go to the only natural lakes in Orange County. The nice thing about this hike in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is you can make it as easy or strenuous as you would like. Remember to bring 3 dollars for parking. There are plenty of parking spaces at the trailhead. If you hike at the James Dilley Preserve on a hot sunny day, remember to bring plenty of water and sunscreen as there is limited shade along most of the trails. For the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park brochure, click Here. For a hiking trail map for the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, click Here.

Further Thoughts: The James Dilley Preserve, which is a part of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, was started by James Dilley who was a Laguna Beach bookseller in the 1960's that wanted to promote the conservation of the greenbelts and preserves surrounding Laguna Beach. It is now managed by the Orange County parks department, who do take donations to continue keeping it nice and maintained. The James Dilley Park is the oldest preserve and is part of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park (6,800 acres). When you are hiking in the park you get to see what Orange County used to look like many years ago.

From the beginning of the trail to hike to Barbara's Lake and back, it is a fun 3.5 mile loop with roughly 300 feet of elevation gain. While on this hike you can observe spectacular views of the South Coast Wilderness and Orange County.  The trail also offers great views of the Santa Ana Mountains and on clear days the San Gabriel's. Additionally, while hiking on the trails at the James Dilley Preserve in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean from a few parts of the trail.

Barbara's lake is named in honor of conservation activist, Barbara Stuart, who fought for preservation in this area near Laguna Beach. The lake that you hike to is one of only three of Orange County's natural lakes. You can also see the other lakes from the elevated area along the trail. One of the lakes is named Bubble's Lake. The lake is named after a runaway Hippo, "Bubbles" that escaped in the 1970's from the Lion Country Safari. Sadly, Bubbles ended up dying in the struggle to get her out of the lake to return to the Lion Country Safari, which is why they named the lake after her.

This is a great Orange County hike because of the change in terrain, the natural lakes, and the possibly of observing wildlife which use the lakes as a water source. Always remember to bring your camera as you have a great chance of seeing wildlife in this portion of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. This hike also seemed to have a lot of cactus lining select portions of the trail, so be careful. On weekends and most weekdays you are likely to see other hikers and family's out visiting the Dilley Preserve as this is truly a fun day hike in Orange County.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 300 ft. (Easy), Distance: 3.5 Miles Roundtrip (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 1.5 - 2 hours.


James Dilley Preserve (This Post)

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  1. Good description. Hiked from the south lot to Barb's Lake today, and everything is green! Three seeps on the hillside had a couple of nice muddy spots. Many coyote scat, some from 'coons. Red-tailed hawk kept watching me (like a ...) most of the way from her nest and in the air. Great walk.

    The Weasel

  2. Just hiked it this afternoon with a couple was the perfect easy hike to start the day out. We saw a deer, plenty of lizards, squirrel and even frogs by the lake =) After we ate our picnic lunch we decided to venture over to Wilderness Park for round 2.

  3. My hubby and I did this hike this morning and it was beautiful! We took the lake trail to start then the Edison to the ridge. What fantastic views!!

  4. My husband and I hiked this a few weeks ago. I love your blog and have been using it ever since I found it. We are trying to hike at least once a week, twice when he is off every other Friday. Thanks for sharing your hikes.

    1. Tina, that is a great goal to go hiking at least once a week! Glad you have found our hiking blog helpful!

  5. Question-are dogs allowed? Our lab would love this.

    1. At OC Wilderness Parks, dogs are not allowed. For our hikes, we try an put a label at the bottom with a tag that says dog friendly to help readers know which ones allow dogs.


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