Santiago Oaks Regional Park
2145 N. Windes Dr.
Orange, CA 92869
$3 Mon-Fri, $5 Sat-Sun, Holidays/Special Events Varies
Park Close at 6PM or Dusk
Open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians (look for trail signs indicating otherwise)
A Brief History of the Park
Santiago Creek encompasses the main tributary of the Santa Ana River in OC, and is named for San Iago (St. James Iago) by the expedition of Gaspar de Portola in 1769.
In 1866 Llewellyn Bixby, Benjamin and Thomas Flint, and James Irvine, purchased portions of Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. In 1892 a dam made of river rock and cement was constructed on the property, which still stands within the present park.
Various others would come to occupy parts of the land including, W. Norment Windes, who built his residence on the property (that would become the nature center), the Blomes, George Lemke, and the Rinkers.
Eventually, Orange County, realizing the land’s potential for recreational use, would purchase the area from the Rinkers and Blomes in 1974 and 1976.
In 2008, Weir Canyon Wilderness Park was officially incorporated into Santiago Oaks, which now offers trails extending to Anaheim Hills and leading into its neighbor, Irvine Regional Park.
Getting into the Park
Let’s start with how to get into the park. There are two main ways, one is obviously the front entrance to the park, you can ride or drive in. The second, is from Irvine Regional Park, riding only, via Santiago Creek Trail. If you’re up for it, there are more intense trails over the hills, but these are the two easiest. You can also enter, via riding as parking is technically prohibited, through a neighborhood towards the south of the park by taking Sandberg Ln. off of Santiago Canyon Rd. This will take you close to the dam separating Santiago Oaks from Irvine Regional.
As you enter into Santiago Oaks your first trail obstacle is this very shallow creek bed. Some horses try to use the round stone steps, I do not recommend that. It is a lovely view, though.
The main trail that runs the length of the park, and will take the rider well into Irvine Regional Park, is Santiago Creek Trail. For the most part it is a flat trail, with one exception being a large hill that takes you from Santiago Oaks, over the Dam, and into Irvine Park. Once you are over the hill, it is again smooth riding on a wide, relatively flat and easy trail.
Pony Trail, despite the name, is not super horse friendly for the tender-hoofed. It encompasses part of a riverbed, so it is very rocky, however, relatively flat, and easy.
For a quick, small hill for a decent view of the park, there is The Stairs, which, as it sounds, has stairs taking the hiker, or rider, to the top. they are wide enough stairs that Bee is more than happy to run right up them, but there is a space for horses to climb a little more traditionally off to the side.
For the more adventurous riders, a trip along Santiago to Sage Ridge to Oak Trail will bring you up one of the main hills in the park for riding (the west side of the park is pretty much hikers only). Once on Oak Trail, you can stick to the wider path, or veer off on Bumble Bee, but both will take you to the same area. Once you reach the top of the hill, there is an option to ride to the right, I believe it is Hawk Trail, but it is not recommended for horses (not recommended does not mean not allowed, so if you’re confident and your horse is in shape, go for it). The other option is to stick with Bumble Bee Trail, which will take you down into a small canyon. Once at the bottom, there are several paths to choose from, Bumble Bee, Cactus Canyon, Coachwhip, and Yucca Ridge.
All of these will take you to Barham Ridge Trail, length and difficulty of each vary. My personal favorite is to take Bumble Bee to Cactus Canyon, which then connects to Barham Ridge and branches out to Mountain Goat Trail. Mountain Goat will lead you back to the Santiago Oaks side and you can exit the way you came. Coachwhip is a fun trail for confident riders with horses that are in shape, lot’s of turns and switchbacks, narrow, and bumpy and Yucca Ridge is a longer trail, and I would say falls along the lines of Coachwhip, though not nearly as swirly (the technical term, I’d say windy, but it looks like windy. See?).
If you venture to the trail to the right of Oak Ridge, once you make your way to the top of the hill, there is Peralta Hills Trail, and if I recall correctly (hopefully I’m not thinking of an offshoot, it’s been a long time) can be a challenging ride if you keep to the north (left). A lot of areas with exposed smooth rock. I did this trail with a friend of mine, both of our horses had front shoes, we made it, but it was slow and tricky. If you have easy boots for your horse, I recommend using them for the extra traction. I believe this is the trail I mistakenly took to Serrano Ave. and then had to ride back around to the front following the street (sidewalk in some areas, trail in others, just depends where you end up).
North east Barham Trail will take you to Deer Trail and Weir Canyon/Old Weir Canyon Trails, all of which tend to be quieter and off the beaten path. Narrow trails, and some hills, but overall not difficult from what I remember, just hard to get to. I will try to get some more recent updates on these soon.
South east Barham will take you to Chute Ridge Trail and Chute Trail, which throw you down into the Irvine Regional Park area (technically it is considered Weir Canyon, but once you hit the flatter areas I consider that Irvine Regional, whereas I would count the hills as more of Weir Canyon). These trails are also a little slow going downhill, but definitely doable (I was crazy enough to do it bareback, so believe in yourself. BTW, it was disgusting, Bee sweats like crazy).
Keep an eye out for more in-depth posts on specific trails!