Riley Wilderness Park

This weekend Ashley and I had a chance to get away for little bit and visit one of our favorite local parks, Riley Wilderness Park. This is a great place to view wildlife in Orange County. On this hike we saw 12 deer, several hawks, various lizards, and a blue crane. Every time we have visited Riley Wilderness Park we have seen deer, one time we saw a fox, we have seen a rattlesnake, a tarantula, a tarantula wasp, wood rats, an arroyo toad, and several other things. Riley Wilderness Park is also home to a resident bobcat that we have not yet seen. If you are looking for a fun short hike that offers you a great opportunity to see local wildlife, then this is the place to visit.

Directions to Trailhead: A map of the area can be found below with the Google map. To get to Riley Wilderness Park, coming from the 5 freeway, exit at OSO parkway and head toward the Santa Ana Mountains going through Mission Viejo. Take OSO parkway through Ladera Ranch and pass the end of the 241 toll road. Just before you reach the entrance to Coto De Caza, the entrance to Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park is on the right hand side. Remember to bring 3 dollars for parking. Also, they have machines that accept credit cards. There is ample parking at this OC Parks parking area.

Description of Hike: Riley Wilderness Park is always in great shape and the trails in the park are well maintained by the people at OC Parks. It is one of the smaller wilderness parks at only 523 acres but it packs a punch. We hiked a loop using the Wagon Wheel Canyon Trail to the Oak Canyon Trail to the Mule Deer Trail to the Pheasant Run Trail back to the Wagon Wheel Canyon trail which is approximately a 3.5 mile loop. The elevation gain is minimal, approximately 300 ft. There are several trails at Riley Wilderness Park which means you can tailor your hike to how easy or difficult you want to make it. Park maps are also available at the trailheads. For a printable map of the hiking trails at Riley Wilderness Park click Here. Riley Wilderness Park also has a great Nature Center that is opening primarily on the weekends. They have a lot of interactive exhibits for hikers of all age to enjoy. For the Riley Wilderness Park brochure, click Here.

Further Thoughts: Riley Wilderness Park is a gem in Orange County. It is an important wildlife corridor and has areas of opens space around it. Every time we have visited Riley Wilderness Park we have seen deer, this time we counted 12 deer. If you are looking to see deer and other Orange County Wildlife, then Riley Wilderness Park is a great park to visit.

During the daytime the deer like to stay in the shade under the oak trees and later in the day they move into the open fields to graze as the evening comes. The Park also has a resident bobcat in the area, which we have never seen. The Park has a great nature center that is open mostly on the weekend with interactive exhibits as well as an outdoor butterfly garden. The view points along the trails offer spectacular views of the Santa Ana Mountains. The view atop skink vista is very nice. This park is a great hike for those who can only spare a little time to get away and still have the feeling of being out in the wilderness. This is one of Ashley and I's favorite hikes. The Park also has a non-profit organization that helps educate students and the community on the importance of wilderness open space preserves.

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

Time to Complete Hike: 1 - 2 hours.


View Riley Wilderness Park Hike in a larger map


  1. Hi, I went on this hike today with my nieces and nephew. We had a great time, although we did not see any deers. Is there a family hike you can recommend that has a waterfall?

  2. Hi, Well I am sorry that there were no deer while you were out there, maybe next time.

    The only water fall that is likely to have water this time of year and is short is Holy Jim falls. However, we have not been out there recently and cannot guarantee that it has water. The write up for that Hike is under the Holy Jim Water Falls hike. To get to the trail head I would recommend a vehicle with clearance as it is a dirt road that is a little rough in a couple spots.

    Another option once we get a couple of good storms is the San Juan Loop Trail which has a couple waterfalls. That write up is also on the blog. Right now I am sure it is nothing more than a trickle. The water falls are close to the trailhead on that hike and if that is all you want to see you won’t have to venture to far. There are two back to back that are about 10 feet each.

    Both of those hikes round trip are less than 3.5 miles and are really enjoyable. They are well travel trails and you are likely to see others while out on the trail.

  3. Thanks for the tips. Love your website.

  4. Brian and Ashley:

    What an outstanding website. I came across it by a google search. You guys need to be on a bigger scale. I absolutely love this site and the way you have went about constructing it. I went on the the Riley Widerness Hike this past weekend with my whole goal to see deers. 5 minutes into the hike at 8am we saw 7 of them. It was so great. Thanks for the info as I will continue to reference your site.

  5. I am so pleased that I stumbled across your page! We tried out Riley today and loved it - we did see 10 deer in total. It was beautiful and will definately be visited again - without the kids perhaps to spend more time hiking the variety of trails there. The kids all had a great time and loved the little garden at the end.

    Now to read more about your hikes to plan next weekends trip!

  6. Had a great time, nice views, lots of butterflies.

    Click for Photos

    Great Blog!

  7. i came across this blog site while i was searching for local hikes & i am soooo glad i found has been a wealth of super info !!!! thanx ashley & brian for creating this site..........well because of this site my husband & i decided to check out riley wilderness park today......its a great park & a solid 2 hr good hike............i enjoyed hearing all the rattlers in the grasslands but didnt see any fact animal viewing was pretty scarce today due to the heat but we did see 2 hawks swooping & circling about.....1 deer.....many squirrels & of coarse many lizards - oh & some butterflies swirling about too...........i am putting this park on my regular list........cant wait to go back when the deer are more abundant.......i also loved that it was not a crowded park....nice & peaceful...........also riley wilderness park has sunset hikes lead by the park rangers on certain saturdays each month (right now its the 2nd saturday each month but check the events section on rileys website to get more of an exact day & time ).......well i'm glad i found your site..........its so helpful :):) happy hiking karyn :)

  8. Great blog, do you know of any hikes that you can actually swim in or at least hangout in a body of water?


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