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The Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail passes through the heart of Mission Viejo from South Laguna to Rancho Santa Margarita along an 18.5-mile corridor. The trail features many parks in Orange County, with plenty of rest areas and kiosks providing information and recounting the area's history. Beginning from the ocean end, the trail goes gradually uphill; it's a fun downhill ride on the way back. Be aware that the trail turns to sand for about 1/4 of a mile after passing under Laguna Hills Drive.
You can access the trail in many places along its route. Parking is available at Awma Road near Aliso Canyon Road, the ballfields off Woodfield Road, Sycamore Park, El Toro Park, Heroes Park and off El Toro Road near Marguerite Parkway.
My fiancé and I did this trail for the first time and we enjoy it a lot. We are amateurs but would like to do more exploring. Being as we don't ride enough out butts hurt but we definitely will do it again
We began the ride at the parking lot at Awma and went north for 9 miles. It was a beautiful ride, passing several parks and ball fields. Be aware that the trail turns to sand for about 1/4 of a mile after passing under Laguna Hills Drive. Other than that, the trail is asphalt or concrete the entire way. A little work going, but the ride back is fun and fast!
I love this place. its fun.
The ride up to el toro is harder. The treat is going back down. There are shady areas where trees cover. All in all for paved ride you will love it.
It's Sunny Southern California and TrailBear has a bit of free time. The rains are coming, so better get a ride in before they arrive. Last time Der Bear was on this trail, it rained. He stopped at the 241 toll road and beat feet back to the van. This time we have blue skies.
This is going to be a short Anabasis on the upper trail, so Hero's Park was selected as the trailhead du jour - mainly because there is not a single flushie or portapotty above here. The restroom on the knoll from last year is gone. There is a new one by the ball field - handicapper, Men and Women and a program office. All locked. To flush during the week, be there after 4 PM. Their porta turned out to be less than charming. A great deal less.
This time the ride is the Rover X5 trike. It is comfort on wheels. Even more lower gears would be nice. Some of the long slopes on this trail got TB down into 1x1 granny gear. The Aliso Creek Trail is a long uphill slog from the coast to the base of the mountains. There are ups and downs but mostly ups. Just sit back and grind it out. At least the trike seating is comfortable. Can't say that about DF bikes.
Nothing has really changed on the trail until you reach the Whiting Ranch Trailhead. The creek left the channel here - probably in the December rains - and there are 6' walls of silt bulldozed to the sides of the trail - which is a two lane road here. The road is clear. The 241 toll road bridges are ahead. What is beyond them?
First attraction is to the left where the Edison Ridge Riding and Hiking Trail comes in. The signs here are confusing. The gate says No Trespassing. The ped gate is open and a sign inside explains all the Do Nots. Looks OK for horse, feet or mountain bike. The trail is marked on Google Earth.
Grind up the slopes to where you underpass Glenn Ranch Rd. Here the Aliso-Serrano Riding and Hiking Trail joins the Aliso Creek Bikeway (so signed). It also has a sign saying Not A County Trail. It really looks like a two lane blacktop road - minus vehicles. However, you are warned to Watch for Maintenance Vehicle.
Chug upward and onward. Say what? To the left, over the creek - an old time home. Probably a ranch house in the Pre Condo Era. In the 1960s, this was the boonies. Today the slopes above are covered in McMansions awaiting the next wildfire to come at them.
At the top of the slope the trail ends at El Toro Rd. No trail end sign. No parking. No nothing. On the left there is a bike/walk descending to Ridgeline Rd. Cooks Corner is beyond, about .5 miles from the trike. The bike/walk does not reach it.
TrailBear ponders: Does he want to descend on the sidewalk, only to grind back up it? Naaa. He will settle for one of those "upon a peak in Darien" moments. (Keats: On Looking into Chapman's Homer). He has been ascending for the last 6.33 miles. Roadies love this. TB is no roadie. It's time for some downhill.
He wheels the trike about and heads back. Down! Now, this is fun! Back down the slopes he ground up, siren wailing, hitting 24.9 at one point. Drift around the corners, move up to the big chain wheel and settle down to between 17 and 21 mph. It would seem that while trikes are slower uphill, they can move downhill. The average speed is a few knots higher than last year when TB was on a mountain bike.
Triking in comfort
ALISO CREEK TRAIL – Facilities survey from El Toro Park to the 241 Overpass
Sunday, 2/21/10. It was an iffy day. Would it rain? Where would it rain?
TrailBear wussed out of riding on Saturday. He went into Costco with sunshine. Came out to find grey-bottomed cumulus filling the sky. Seen this before: rain showers. Back to clean the garage. Of course, the clouds then lifted, the sun came out and all was well. That left Sunday or no ride, so on Sunday AM TB was assembling the Gutterbunny at El Toro Park, with one eye on the sky.
He headed north up the Aliso Creek Trail to log the facilities for the trail map, with one eye on the sky.
HEROES PARK, LAKE FOREST… GE: 33.623783° -117.686789°
First stop was Heroes Park, Lake Forest. This is a baseball park – like so many others. The main restrooms on the hill were padlocked. Issues? However, there were three portapotty reststops scattered about the edges of the park, plus at least one water fountain. You could use it as a full service trail head. Plenty of parking.
From there the trail runs NE to the trail bridge at 2nd St. where the concrete channel becomes a natural streambed – or as natural as you get in an urban setting. Cross the bridge and head up the west bank.
REST AREA BY CHERRY PARK… GE: 33.630246° -117.679614°
What a pleasant surprise – a well equipped trailside rest area with table, trash, bike rack, water and info kiosk. Unlike the rest area at Katella Crossing on the SART, this one had a pair of roadies in it. We discussed routes and options. This area is below Cherry Park. As the park lacks a restroom, there is no need to visit. Water, etc. are on the trail here.
The trail bridge below Trabucco Rd. is missing a sign. There is a bare pole. There is a broad, inviting trail to the left. It appears to just climb to the road. A pair that headed thataway were soon seen back on the trail. The real trail takes a hard right onto the bridge, thence under Trabuco Rd. Now comes a pleasant section with a number of trailside benches. Creek left, homes right. This take you up to…
SUNDOWNER PARK … GE: 33.642511° -117.666311°
Sundowner is a little neighborhood park. That means water fountain, tables, tot lot, no restroom. In fact, it appears the last handy pitstop was at Heroes Park. (It was.)
From Sundowner the trail takes a turn for the worse. It dives under El Toro Rd., comes up on the far side and runs along the road for several miles. Shades of the Freeway Trail - except you are right next to the traffic and the noise is perhaps worse. The pavement here is certainly worse. Root heaves, large cracks, etc. It gets a ** to *** rating. The pavement below El Toro Park was **** to *****.
Something new for the TrailBear at the Portola Parkway undercrossing. They have hardened the creek bed for about 350’ either direction by paving the whole thing with those open cell erosion control blocks designed to provide a hard surface while allowing water to percolate and thingies to grow in the cells. It seems to be working. All the blocks were in place.
Above Portola things have changed. GE shows one yard and then trees. The trees are now a county facilities yard with stacks of this and that and other things.
WHITING RANCH TRAILHEAD @ EL TORO RD. … GE: 33.661251° -117.642909°
Just before Marguerite Parkway undercrossing is the Whiting Ranch trailhead on El Toro. Not much for facilities: gravel parking lot with a lot of cars, trash, info kiosk, picnic table. No portapotty. Logical place for one.
Under the parkway and onward toward the soaring 241 overpass. Snap a photo. Look behind. The sky is rather ugly back there. It’s not good looking in any direction, but over towards El Toro Park it’s quite dark. Perhaps it’s time to beat feet and try to beat the rain. Turns out it was raining back there, but who is to know? It was over by the time TB got back.
TrailBear kicks the bike around and puts the hammer down. This effort is greatly aided by topography. The ride up has been climbing all the while, from 387’ at the Muirlands UnderXing to 808’ at the Whiting Ranch parking lot. Now it’s fun time. The speed seems to hold between 14 and 17 mph vs. the grind uphill.
The lower trail was the more interesting ride, with better pavement. It was quieter – until it crossed the San Diego Freeway, and then it pulled away. It’s a good ride from the south end up to Sundowner Park. Then comes that El Toro Rd. section. The lower trail does have better facilities.
Filling in the blank spots on the map.
ALISO CREEK TRAIL – from A&WC Wilderness Park to El Toro Park
A sunny spring day in SoCal finds the TrailBear down at Woodfield Park in Aliso Viejo putting the Gutterbunny ’10 together while Dear Wife checks out the park’s three cabin restroom. She’s happy: It has two cabins for the ladies and one for the men. She likes that ratio. She rates it a 4* on the Irvine Flushie Scale. Woodfield is the best trailhead on the lower trail: Parking, water, flushies, and the trail 100 yds. thataway. What is not to like?
It was a delightful spring day and a fun ride. The Aliso Creek Trail is quite diverse. It’s well worth the ride. It’s a high speed trail with mostly grade-separated crossings and you can get 16 miles of riding. You will do a lot of underpasses. There is something new around each corner.
It’s not a landscaped trail. It’s rather wildish along the creek in the lower portion, then runs through parks and scrub lands, up a bike/walk along an arterial, over the top of the ridge, down to the creek again, up to and under the freeway, passes alongside another park, becomes a flood channel, then runs through El Toro Park, which is where this survey ended.
Good pavement or blacktop all the way. A lot of mud in one undercrossing. Facilities range from PortaPotty Pitstops to 4* flushies. The water points range from a hose bib to sinks to fountains.
First head south to find the trail end.
Trail Link’s map shows two trail end icons and 16 miles of bare track between. This is catnip to the TrailBear. How can he resist finding what is in between. (Obviously, not very well. He’s headed for the bottom end to see what is there.)
TRAILBEAR’S TRAIL LOG…
(Photos from the log have been uploaded to Traillink. You can follow along in Google Earth if you copy and paste the coordinates into Google Earth to see each location mentioned.)
Log 0.00 miles, Elevation 157’, N33.55165 W117.72019
TRAIL END, ALISO & WOOD CANYONS WILDERNESS PARK
“Here there be…” a vast and mostly empty parking lot. The reason is over there – the regional park pay station. Day fee from $3-$10, depending. Still a better deal than state beach parks ($15). The park users are parked across the street and in about 15 minutes, there will be no more room. The church across the street has a vast and empty parking lot. One wonders if they tow with alacrity.
This trailhead is rather rural. The address is 28375 Alicia Parkway, Aliso Viejo. The buildings are trailers, there is a double portapotty pitstop (PPPS) in the corner of the parking lot with a portable wash station. The water point is a hose bib at the eye wash station and shower (OSHA?) inside the maintenance yard. Takes a bit of finding. There is a park office and information kiosks – about the A&W park.
So, where is the end of the Aliso Creek Trail? Across Awma Rd., by the bridge. Nice fresh blacktop, good condition, striped with lanes about 5’ wide.
What’s in a name? What Google Earth labels the Aliso Creek Riding and Hiking Trail is either the Aliso Creek Trail or Aliso Creek Bikeway to the trail managers. Their signs show it both ways. Their big signs show “trail”, so trail it is, and up the trail we go.
0.24m/155’, N33.55409 W117.71919 DAM WITH WATERFALL
You can pull over and admire the dam with little dragon’s teeth below. A curtain of water is falling across the entire face of this dam just south of Aliso Creek Rd. The next rain will probably rearrange the sediments and change that, but today it was good.
1.49m/199’, N33.56855 W117.71879 SPRINGDALE (?) PARK – WATER AND PPPS
Just above the high school is a neighborhood park (no sign seen) with picnic armadas, a non-working water fountain and a PPPS. Wait for Woodfield. It’s better.
2.0m/213’, N33.57336 W117.71743 WOODFIELD PARK – PARKING, WATER, RESTROOMS
Woodfield is the best full service trailhead on the lower trail. It is devoted to baseball, with six ball fields. The trail runs thru it and its free, so it’s a good staging area.
3.06m/230’, N33.58408 W117.71178
BRIDGE AND JUNCTION OF ALISO CREEK AND ALICIA CREEK TRAILS
What’s this? Another trail? Not listed? TrailBear makes a note for further research. Just beyond the bridge over Aliso Creek is a junction with the Alicia Creek Trail coming in from the east. You hang a left there. A sign would be nice. The Alicia appears to run around the toe of a ridge and then along Alicia Parkway in a greenbelt to end at yet another sports park. Needs riding to find out.
3.61m/260’, N33.59075 W117.71143 SHEEP HILLS PARK – A PPPS
Sheep Hills, just beyond the Moulton Parkway undercrossing, is a private association park, but there is a pair of portapotties along the trail there. There is probably water on the far side of the park, but nothing seen along the trail.
3.87m/272’, N33.59270 W117.71114
LAGUNA HILLS DRIVE UNDERCROSSING – HERE THERE BE MUD!
There is a confusion of routes at the top end of Sheep Hills Park. GE and Traillink show the trail going up the south side of Laguna Hills Drive. The trail managers have routed and signed the trail up the other side. Both would seem to work. Take the undercrossing at a slow bell. I found mud inches thick down there. The crossing has no creek-side barrier wall, so when the water is up, the crossing is a channel. They had shoveled a trench thru the mud so you could slowly ride thru.
Thru the undercrossing, then what? Ahead is the creek and a broad, inviting path. Looks like gravel. Here is a sign showing a right turn. A hairpin turn up the ramp to the street. Here you find the equestrian trail (actually a jogger trail – never a sign of horses on these trails) and the bike/walk running alongside Laguna Hills Drive.
4.53m/352’, N33.59578 W117.70177
CONFUSION CORNER – LAGUNA HILLS DR x PASEO DE VALENCIA
Now that you’ve climbed up the hill, what? Trail is where? TrailBear pulls out his handy home-made Goggle Earth pictomaps – Aliso Creek Trail in five sheets. It’s across PdV. Head for that apartment sign. Sure ‘nuf. Here is a blacktop bike/walk heading back toward the creek.
5.12m/325’, N33.60360 W117.70264
BACK ON THE CREEK AGAIN AND HEADING TOWARD THE FREEWAY
You now leave Paseo de Valencia and climb uphill towards the San Diego Freeway. Hear the roar. You will reach the top where there is a charming oxbow bend in the creek below and historical signage trailside about the ranchos era at 5.60m. Two ranchos had their buildings down in the creek below in the Old Days. Below is the freeway undercrossing.
5.80m/345’, N33.60741 W117.69441
TRAIL JUNCTION AT SYCAMORE PARK, MISSION VIEJO
Once thru the undercrossing (watch for the water trickling across the trail here) you are at the bottom of Sycamore Park. The trail goes up the left side of the creek here, but there is another trail leading thru the park which will rejoin the trail at the top. The park looks inviting. Cross the creek on the ford and explore. There is a water fountain at the tot lot and historical plaques at the south end. No restrooms seen.
6.44m/375’, N33.61057 W117.69238 TAKE THE BRIDGE TO REJOIN THE TRAIL
Continue riding thru the park towards the bridge ahead. Cross over and head uphill. Now you are in a channelized section of the creek which curves towards El Toro Park ahead. At Los Alisos you dive under the street and find that the trail now runs along the left bank of the channel with the creek in a center gutter. Better figure that this section is closed in any sort of rain event.
6.62m/378’, N33.61461 W117.69535 RIDING IN THE CREEK – EL TORO PARK
Riding in the creek is rather run. The wall of the channel are quite interesting. They look like blocks that step back with each course. The dimensions of the blocks and the angle of the batter makes them very comfortable seating – rather like bleachers. Park off the trail, have a seat – high or low – and watch the world go by.
On the other hand, you might want to cross the creek on the steel cover and head up the ramp to take the bridge into El Toro Park. Water and decent restrooms can be found over by the tennis courts. The parking appears to be on-street, but this is a decent little trailhead and a pleasant park with a lot of shade trees. The bridge gives a good vantage point for action on the trail below.
6.98m/401’, N33.61716 W117.69354 MUIRLANDS BLVD. UNDERCROSSING AHEAD
The park ends at Muirlands and so does this portion of the trail facilities survey. Time to head downhill and back to Woodfield Park, pack up and get to work on the field notes. That takes many more hours than the ride.
"Filling in the blank spots on the map."
Awma Rd to Jeronimo Park,
A Rural, Urban and Riparian Trail with some short steep grades, a couple loops and confusing street crossings.
The lower TH is off Alicia Parkway, on Awma Rd N33.55209 W117.71889 elevation 141 feet.
Park on a dirt lot on the left side, not in the nice Church lot on the right. Trail is in excellent condition. After crossing the creek on a small bridge the Alicia Creek Trail (1.49 mile with a 0.16 mile 8% grade) joins on the right at N33.58418 W117.71166 elev 239‘. Keeping to the left on Aliso Creek, the trail goes to Sheep Hills Park with port-a- potty’s, then turns right N33.59193 W117.71114 elev 278’ on combined sidewalk/trail up Laguna Hills Dr and joins again with east end of Alicia Creek Trail at Paso De Valencia N33.59549 W117.70159 elev 365‘. Cross Valencia then left across Stockport St and back on the trail parallel to Valencia heading North. The asphalt surface along Valencia has root heaves and is in poor condition. Soon after crossing the creek, turn right at N33.60359 W117.70267 elev 328’ continue with up and downs, a 0.14 mile 8.7% grade descends to pass under I-5. Just east of I-5 N33.60736 W117.69441 elev 321’ there is a 0.34 mile loop to the right around Sycamore Park rejoining by a bridge across Aliso Creek N33.61081 W117.69298 elev 362’ then on to El Toro Community Park N33.62273 W117.68928 elev 422’, off Jeronimo Rd.
Jeronimo Park to Cooks Corner. The only Auto entrance to this Trail Head is an obscure turn, off Southeast bound Jeronimo Rd at N33.62457 W117.68677 .
Exiting Jeronimo Park TH east of the RR under pass, the trail has a short steep climb then drops under Jeronimo Rd with two bumps in the underpass, slow down. From Jeronimo Rd to the end, the trail has a 1.7 to 2.6 % grade. Good scenery along this part of the trail as it crosses the creek twice on bridges with an iron oxide finish. The asphalt surface is smooth, the wide section is Old El Toro Road. The concrete surface is wavy and rough. Another TH off El Toro Rd with parking and Port-a-Potty is just west of Marguerite Pway N33.66125 W117.64294. The Trail transitions to a Bike Lane for the last 0.18 miles on El Toro Road and ends at the Intersection with Live Oak Canyon Rd N33.68326 W117.62052 elev 1095’. Also known as “Cooks Corner“, reported as the oldest continuingly operated Café/Bar in Orange County, the building having been moved from the Santa Ana Army Air Corps Base which closed 1946/47. Noel Keller
"I usually start the trail at Jeronimo. Heading to the south takes you through several park areas but the creek is more like a concrete ditch. Still, once you go under the 405, you have a choice of paved or dirt. Going to the north there is much better scenery but the ride is slightly up hill all the way on a paved trail.
It's a fun trail to ride."
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