Irvine Regional Park
1 Irvine Park Road
Orange, CA 92869
$3 Mon-Fri, $5 Sat/Sun, Holidays and Events varies
Park Close at 6PM or Dusk
Open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians (look for trail signs indicating otherwise)
A Brief History of Irvine Regional Park
Irvine Park was part of Don Teodosio Yorba’s original Mexican grant of Rancho Lomas de Santiago. In 1860 it was sold for $7,000 for use as a cattle range, but was unsustainable for the large herds. It was sold 6 years later for the same price, this time for sheep farming.
In 1876, the land became sole property of James Irvine, who’s son, James Irvine Jr. went on to sell the 160 acres of land to the county, for $1. This essential donation was known as the “Gift Munificent,” and was deemed Orange County Park. The name was changed in 1928 as tribute to James Irvine Jr.
The park now houses a zoo, Outdoor Education Center, stable facility, known as Peacock Hill Equestrian Center, a boat pond, playgrounds, and camping areas.
Getting into the Park
There are quite a few ways to get into Irvine Regional. There is of course the main entrance, by driving in. If riding in from Orange Park Acres, you can take the Newport Trail, or the trail along Santiago (various names depending on location) cross the street at the cross walk at Newport and Santiago Canyon (equestrian height button available) and enter the park from the middle via a lovely hill know as Cardiac.
If trying to avoid Cardiac, I’ve been known to take the sidewalk along Santiago Canyon instead, and enter from the main gate. You may also enter at the main gate from the trail along Jamboree, which is part of the Mountain to Sea Trail (a trail for a whole separate post).
You can also come into the park via Santiago Oaks, by taking Santiago Creek Trail, for a less intimidating big hill over the dam. OR, you can take the trail along Santiago Canyon, that starts at Windes Dr. up to Lolita St. Cut through the neighborhood and you’ll arrive at the side of that same dam that separates Santiago and Irvine, BUT, rather than a big straight path up the dam, you end up on a road with a slower incline (I usually take my boyfriend, who is a beginner and still intimidated by larger hills up this way). Of course, there are the Chutes Trails that will take the experienced rider into Irvine from Santiago Oaks as well.
Lots of choices, many depending on experience level and weather conditions. I do not recommend Cardiac after the rain.
There are a number of riding trails throughout the park. One of the main trails is Santiago Creek Trail, which is a wide, relatively flat and easy trail, with one large hill that goes over the dam and separates Irvine Regional from Santiago Oaks, its neighbor. Running right alongside Santiago Creek Trail is Egret Trail, and right next to Egret is Willow Trail, both of which are about the same as far as difficulty (in that it isn’t) to Santiago Creek. Each trail is slightly more interior than the previous. There are numerous easy trails that are wide and flat that span the length of the park, as well as trails that go back into the hills of Weir Canyon for more confident riders.
Willow trail will branch off into smaller trails that venture into the trees, but be wary, they are very narrow in some areas, and often not trimmed very well, so be prepared for some ducking. Its best to go slow your first time through. Many of these trails don’t have specific names, but the paths are clearly marked. Unfortunately, due to some flooding in 2011, there were a number of trails underwater for a good chunk of time, so some are in the process of being redone, be prepared for some sudden dead ends if you’re riding into the center of the park.
Roadrunner Loop Trail is another popular one in the park, fairly easy, but lasts a decent amount of time. The only problem is that there are several branches to this trail, and not all of them actually loop anywhere. There is an unmarked trail that will take you to Willow trail, but this is one of those that can end up being very hard to get through on horseback.
Barham Ridge Trail makes an appearance in this park as well, going back into Weir Canyon and taking the rider into Santiago Oaks if they’re up for a long ride, along with Chute Trail, both connected to Roadrunner Loop. Barham Ridge (headed south) will take a rider right across the Santiago Creek river bed, (which occasionally actually holds a river!) to Santiago Creek Trail. There is a small unmarked path by the riverbed (north side) that will lead you to one of the oldest coastal live oak trees in Orange County. It’s a lovely tree that is worthy of swinging by.
Horseshoe Loop is a great trail towards the eastern end of the park, that has nice views without being too difficult. There are some narrow areas on this trail, so watch out for cactus. There are also sandy areas as it cuts through the river bed, so, if your horse likes to roll, be careful, I’ve seen a few just plop themselves right down into the sand rider and all. Horseshoe loop will also take the rider to the southern side of the park towards Puma Ridge Trail. Puma Ridge and Cactus Trail are some of the more difficult rides in the park (other than those going into Weir Canyon). There are signs where the trail branches that let you know which trails are not recommended for horses, I suggest listening to those signs, having mistakenly ended up on the wrong side. This trail does have some of the best views in the park however, especially in the spring when the mustard flowers come in.
Spring is one of the best times to visit the park, especially if there has been some rain in the area. The park really soaks in the water and everything turns green. There are tons of flowers and spotting wildlife is common.
Summer gets pretty dry. Most plants start turning brown and there is no river. It can get hot in the park, so I recommend sticking to the trees.
Fall is probably the next best, as it starts to cool down and you can see the transformation that has taken place over the hot summer. You can see the changes in the summer, but it can get pretty warm unless you get out there early.
Winter can be exciting if there has been rain. As mentioned, the park occasionally gets to have a river thanks to the Santiago Creek bed. You are allowed to cross the river (as long as trails are open) so it can make for a very fun ride. The only down side is that trails are sometimes closed due to the rain in order to better maintain them.
In general, there is a lot to enjoy in the park, and it can be very beautiful, it is a very seasonal park, lots of changing leaves and colors. The only downside is that when venturing into the hills to the north of the park, The Outdoor Education Center has a lot of the trails fenced off from the public. I believe there may be docent guided rides in there occasionally, but have not had the opportunity to join one yet, so be prepared to ride alongside a barbed wire fence, looking longingly at what could have been.
Otherwise, enjoy my pictures and keep an eye out for more trail specific info in the future!