San Juan Capistrano's Colinas Ridge Trail

On Saturday, Ashley and I had the chance to get away for a small hike in the City of San Juan Capistrano and the City of Laguna Niguel. We hiked the Colinas Ridge Trail which was a fun Orange County hike that offered stunning of views of South Orange County along many portions of the trail. Ashley and I both considered this an urban hike because of its proximity to housing, however the hike does have a good bit of wilderness to it and this is a hike that most hikers will enjoy even despite the proximity to homes. On clear days this hike will provide spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Directions to Trailhead: To find the trailhead for the Colinas Ridge Hike take the 5 freeway and exit at Crown Valley Parkway. Go toward Laguna Niguel (away from the Mission Viejo mall). You want to make a left onto Golden Lantern. Follow Golden Lantern to Marina Hills Drive. At that point there is a commercial shopping center there where Golden Lantern and Marina Hills Drive intersect. The shopping center has a McDonald's and a Starbucks in it. Park in that parking lot and the trailhead begins across the street. (You will have to use the cross walk to cross golden lantern at the intersection of Marina Hills Drive and Golden Lantern). We have provided a Google map below or for the city of San Juan Capsitrano's trail map you can click Here. Parking is free, which is always a great price!

Description of Hike: The length of the hike on the Colinas Ridge Trail is a little over 3 miles one way, so about 6.5 miles round trip. It is a ridge line trail, which means there is a lot of elevation gain & loss to it. This is an out back hike meaning you will be retracing your steps back to your car. There are a couple of points where the trail could be marked a little better but you want to take the trail to Monarch Beach (Long View Park). Even though the Colinas Ridge Trail could be marked better, I am sure that the other trails are similar in nature to the Colinas Ridge Trail. The trail surface at times changes from a paved path, to a true uneven dirt hiking trail. If you are looking for a true wilderness experience this is probably not the hike for you. For most of the hike you are near homes, however the view on the top of the ridge line is spectacular. Be careful of rattlesnakes on this hike, we saw 2 rattlesnakes while we were hiking on the Colinas Ridge Trail.  Additionally, there and there were many snake markings on the trail where snakes had crossed the path. 

Further Thoughts: This was a fun get away for Ashley and I especially considering that School had started again for both of us. Ashley and I always enjoy the ability to be able to get out and enjoy nature and were plesently surprised at the amount of wildlife we saw in this open space preserve in the cities of Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano. The Colinas Ridge Trail is very hilly and hiking the length of this trail is a great workout. You can make your hike on the trail network in this area as far as you would like to and thus tailor your hike to how much time you have to spend outdoors. The Colinas Ridge Trail goes from the Shopping Center Area that you start at, almost all the way to the beach.

Even though Ashley and I have classified this hike as an urban hike, there is a large amount of wilderness area/open space in South Orange County that the trail goes through. You will find that most of the wilderness is the slopes on the hills above San Juan Capistrano in addition to a portion of the wilderness that is down in the canyon by Trabuco Creek which runs through San Juan Capistrano. Both Ashley and I would suggest to bring your camera, because you never know what wildlife you might run into while out on this hike.

This Colinas Ridge Hike offers great views of the San Juan Mission, South Orange County, and the Pacific Ocean from the ridge line of the hike. It was unfortunate that while Ashley and I were hiking this trail the fog began to role in, which obscured or view later on during the hike. While out on this trail you will likely see other hikers as the trail is very popular with locals. 

While on this hike both Ashley and I ironically felt a little disappointed with the hike because the Marine Layer was coming in and began to obstruct our views, however that all changed when we saw two rattlesnakes after the marine layer was coming in. We saw one pacific rattlesnake that was just under 4 feet long. We rounded a corner on the hike and nearly walked upon him and he began to rattle at us. Click Here to see the video of our encounter with the pacific rattlesnake. The bottom-line is, there is definitely a wild side to this area even though it might not appear that way.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 500 ft. (Easy- Moderate (ridge line trail)), Distance: 6.5 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 2.5 - 3.5 hours.


Colinas Ridge (This Post)

View Colinas Ridge Trail in a larger map


  1. Do you often see rattlers on your hikes? A few weeks ago I was at Saniago Oaks, decided to stop and take a breath for a moment. I was on Santiago Creek Trail, really more of a dirt road. Took a look around for any wildlife, everything was clear. Saw a bird ahead so a took a look through my binoculars for a few minutes. Put my binocs down and saw something move in a jerking movement at my feet--4 to 5 ft red diamondback's head not far from my right foot, it had crawled out of the grass at the side of trail while I was looking at the bird. For some reason it decided to take off the other way instead. This is the closest call I've ever had, and like you I hike a lot. It's not like I'm doing something unsafe or out bushwacking and asking for trouble. Wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway you mention snake tracks--I took some decent pics of this guys tracks and posted them to my site on my "Safety" page if anyone is interested in seeing pics of what a rattlesnake track looks like (I thought it was interesting). BTW, very nice site--do you mind if I link to it from mine? Thanks for what you do! Great info!

  2. Cindy,

    Thanks for the post and we would love the link. We have run into rattlesnakes on only 3 hikes we have done for a total of 4. This, however, is the only picture and video we have gotten of one. We have seen garter snakes on two other hikes we have done. They are out there and as you said sometimes you are at the wrong place at the wrong time. The one on this hike was a similar experince because we were walking along the trail and spotted him virtually in the bushes right next to us. We stepped back and waited for him to leave and that is what he did after rattling at us for a little bit.

  3. Your site is awesome! I just started hiking and I'm using your site to find all my hikes. Did Sitton Peak last Sunday. I just did this one today. I live right across the street from the trail head and had no idea it existed. The views are awesome. And I saw a rattlesnake on my hike too! It was the last thing I was expecting in January but it was almost 80 degrees today. It was just a baby, no more than 8 inches long, but it still got me to jump a little.

  4. Very nice webpage. The swimming snake is a nightsnake, a small, harmless, and secretive creature. They can also do a pretty good rattlesnake impersonation. They're nocturnal and strictly terrestrial, so observing one swimming during the day is an incredibly rare observation, and probably represents a snake trying to evade a predator.

  5. Further inspection, not swimming. My comment was referring to the small snake.


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