San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary (South Loop)

Ashley and I recently had another visit to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary which offers fun short hikes in Irvine. The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is a totally different hiking location than most places in Southern California as it is mostly a riparian or marsh habitat. The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is a great 300 acre preserve that is connected with the larger Newport back bay ecosystem and offers great trails for hiking in Orange County. For more pictures of the South Loop, make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: A Google map of the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is below at the end of the post. The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Irvine. There are several entrances to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. To get to the trailhead for the South Loop Trail, exit at Culver and go towards UC-Irvine. Follow Culver for a mile or two and make a right onto University. Follow University for a mile or two and make a right onto Campus. Just after your make the right onto Campus, make an immediate right onto Riparian View Road. The trailhead parking area is at your first left. Note, there are several other entrances to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary from the surrounding area, but this is the one for the South Loop. One of the best things about the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is that it is free to the public and is open from dusk until dawn 7 days a week.

Description of Hike: The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is a 300 plus acre nature preserve. There are over 11 miles of trails in the park. The trails are virtually flat as it is a wetland sanctuary. There are trail maps located at the entrances to the park. If you would like to print out a map before you go, here is a link to one. You can make your hike in the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary as long or a short as you want. There is minimal elevation gain on any trail that you choose to hike. Even though the park is close to some of the tall buildings found in the urban core of Irvine, the park still has that wild secluded feel to it. While hiking the trails at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, you will be able to see plenty of wildlife while out on the trails. The South Loop Trail is a 1.4 mile loop that goes through the Southern Portion of the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. There is minimal elevation gain and it offers great scenery and a chance to see wildlife. The trail loops around many of the lakes located at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and is a great place to see the wide diversity of birds that use this wildlife sanctuary. The total hike from the parking area plus the North Loop is 1.6 miles roundtrip.

Further Thoughts: Ashley and I have always loved our hikes at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. For such a popular area you have an excellent chance to view local Orange County wildlife so close to the urban core of Orange County. Usually, you will see people/other hikers  out with big cameras and telephoto lenses taking pictures of the wide diversity of birds that use the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. We have seen hawks, pelicans, and ospreys while on this Orange County hike.

The wetlands at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary naturally clean urban runoff from the nearby San Diego Creek. After interacting with the bulrush and other plants at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary for seven to ten days, up to 70 percent of the nitrogen that was in the water is naturally removed. The cleaner water is returned to the creek to continue its journey to Upper Newport Bay and the ocean. The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary is a natural filtration system for the San Diego Creek.

One of the great things about the South Loop is that it goes around the larger lakes at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. This makes for some scenic pictures. Additionally, at the parking area is the Sea and Sage Audubon House. They offer several interpretive hiking trails which are very educational. Also, inside the building is a wide selection of materials including a reference library, a fully equipped nature shop, and some taxidermied birds. For a checklist of the birds that use the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary click Here.

Ashley and I enjoyed our fun short hike on the South Loop of the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and it is a perfect hike for the whole family to do together.

Rating: Elevation Gain: Minimal (Easy), Distance: 1.6 Miles Roundtrip (Easy).

Time to Complete Hike: 30 minutes - 45 minutes.


South Loop (This Post)


  1. my husband & I just did this hike today (thanx to brian & Ashley - I found out about this hike from this website )......I was looking for a simple hike in a cooler area since today 7/4 was rather hot...well this was the perfect hike !!!! I fell in love with this hike :) its simple, beautiful, quiet, & an abundance of wonderful wildlife (birds )
    first off I was glad to see they have restrooms & a water fountain :):) (restrooms very clean & yes they flush :) & they have really really big mirrors LOL ! the trails are very nice to walk - they are clean & wide & every trail is lined with wonderful foliage & the walk around the lake is just absolutely some areas I felt like I was entering Louisiana & at any moment I would see an alligator LOL - certain areas had the bayou vibe :) well anyway the trails are all very flat & easy to walk - now I know Ashley & brian said 30-45 min but we were walking in the sanctuary for 2.5 hrs (ok we did do a lot of picture taking ) - I found there wasn't just one trail that looped - we found there were several trails that broke off here & there & we had a blast checking it all I suppose u could make it quick or long :) also heads up we did find (being our first time there) we did get a little lost at the end when trying to find how to exit LOL but now we know so next time we wont look like tourists LOL :)
    I couldn't believe all the critters we saw.........we saw TONS of birds & all kinds - it was amazing...we saw bunnies...squirrels...lizards...butterflies...& I even saw 2 raccoons....we just had the most amazing day..........this will be a hike we will definitely do again........we live in orange so the drive was not bad at all.....cant wait to come back :) thanx brian & Ashley !!!!


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