THE PETERS CANYON WASH TRAIL, IRVINE, CA.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Sweet confusion reigns. Which Peter’s Canyon Trail are we talking about? Check the context.
There is a Peters Canyon. There is also a Peters Canyon Regional Park in Orange, CA at GE: 33.761962° -117.770609°. It has mountain bike trails, one of which is the Lower Peters Canyon Trail. There is a high speed Class I bikeway with grade-separated crossings called the Peters Canyon Wash Trail further downhill in the Peters Canyon Wash, which is not in Peters Canyon.
Even better, in the minutes of a recent governmental meeting, it was noted that the County was calling the trail on their side of the wash the Peters Canyon Trail/ Mountains to the Sea Trail. On the other side of the wash, the City of Irvine had the West Irvine Trail. It was thought perhaps they should agree their names. This was taken under advisement.
The Peters Canyon Wash Trail is the Class I bikeway (“Look, ma! No cars!”) which starts across
Barranca Parkway from the Bill Barber Park (Official name – Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park.) in Irvine and heads northeast and uphill along the wash to end at Portola Parkway, 5.80 miles later. From that point inland you take Class II bike lanes if you want to reach Peters Canyon Regional Park or beyond.
It’s a nice ride with a semi-loop option. You can start at Bill Barber Park or come up the San Diego Creek Bikeway to Bill Barber Park, cross the street, get on the Peters Canyon Trail, ride it up to Portola Parkway, head SE on Portola, using the bike lane to reach the top of the Hicks Canyon Trail and take that downhill to rejoin the Peters Canyon Trail. With a bit more bike lane work, you can descent further on Jeffrey Rd., hit the Venta Spur Trail and take that back to Peters Canyon Wash.
Do you have Google Earth on your computer? If so, paste in the GE coordinates as you read along to see the various trail features.
The trail starts on the NE corner of Harvard Ave. and Barranca Parkway, by the West Park sign (GE: 33.688537° -117.818185°). There you will find a wide concrete bikeway/sidewalk heading up Harvard in a landscaped green belt. Take this or take the bike lane on Harvard next to it. About 1.4 miles and a number of “at-grade crossings” later, you reach the Incredible Edible Park (GE: 33.703427° -117.799953°)
The Incredible Edible Park is a Second Harvest farming operation under the power lines. This is also the start of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Trail (Walnut Trail). There is parking on the dirt verge off Harvard and water fountains further up the ATSF Trail.
Your mission is to get across the active RR track and then across Harvard to pick up the trail, which runs along that ditch you see across the street. Take this jog 0.3 miles NW to, at last, Peters Canyon Wash (GE: 33.706124° -117.802702°). Now you can start climbing up the wash. It’s an interesting ride – sort of a tour of flood control techniques. Did you notice where a buried stream entered the wash from the west? From the east? There are streams buried under all that asphalt and buildings.
As you climb, check out the weirs and other methods of holding back flood waters to slow the flow. They seem to like full width check dams with slots. The San Diego Creek Trail uses that and dragon’s teeth. I keep hoping for some rain so I can see these in action. Might be a while. We have been in drought since 2007.
Just 0.3 miles above the corner and just off the trail, you pass the Harvard Community Athletic Park (GE: 33.708849° -117.798766°). This is the last full service pit stop on the trail. You might want to drop in and check it out.
At the I-5 freeway underpass, the channel constricts into a narrow concrete canyon with a ditch down the middle, running a good bit of water. Come the rains, this crossing may be flooded out first. Signs warn you not to enter under those circumstances. That would be a Bad Career Move, but good YouTube.
As you ascend from the freeway you begin to converge with the 261 toll road. By the Bryan Ave. underpass, the 261 is running alongside the trail, just over that berm. Do another 0.3 miles and you cross the junction with the Venta Spur Trail, built on a former AT&SF rail road spur serving one of Irvine’s packing plants back in the “Oranges Grow in Orange County “days. Venta Spur Junction is a nice place for a break. There is water, shade, tables and nice landscaping.
The 48,000 s.f. Frances Packing House served by the spur was built in 1916, so that was some time ago, i.e., 93 years back. Now the spur is a sinuous, lushly landscaped multipurpose trail with on-grade crossings. It runs about 2.73 miles SE across town to end at the JOST – Jeffrey Open Space Trail. Someday the JOST will run from the Quail Hill Trailhead inland all the way across Irvine to Portola Parkway and beyond – about five miles. Today it runs down Jeffrey Rd. from Irvine Blvd. to Trabuco Rd., about one mile. (GE: 33.723545° -117.780545°)
Another half mile and one undercrossing up the trail is the junction with the western end of the Hicks Canyon Trail (GE: 33.728755° -117.775359°) . The Hicks runs about 2.65 miles SE and uphill to end at the Portola Parkway by way of Jeffrey Road.
Another 0.3 miles onward, the stream and Peters Canyon Wash vanish into the underground. Now the trail starts to climb. I found the gears dropping to keep the same cadence. Hang in there. Another 0.7 miles takes you up to Portola Parkway and the end of the Class I bikeway. If you want to go to Peters Canyon Regional Park in Orange, it’s Class II bike lanes for you.
HICKS CANYON LOOP- BACK OPTION…
I took the Portola – Hicks Canyon loop back option. Your choices are to take the spacious bike line down Portola Parkway or cross over to the far side to get the concrete bikeway/sidewalk on that side. The sidewalk on the near side is too narrow for bikes and peds. In Irvine the sidewalks which also take bikes are wide. The bikeway runs for 0.82 miles and it is 2.74 miles to Hicks Canyon, so the bike lane might be your best choice.
The other end of the Hicks Canyon starts off Portola Parkway a bit short of Jeffrey Rd. (GE: 33.719976° -117.741127°) All the climbing you did is about to be rewarded. It’s all downhill along a shady and well-landscaped trail. I did 12+ all the way down, mostly coasting because the left pedal on my Montague Swiss Bike LX folding hardtail sheered off at the top of the HCT (shameless “promo” here). You can pedal with one pedal. It just sucks to do it and uphill is right out.
Coast or pedal your way down the Hicks to rejoin the Peters Canyon Wash Trail below, and then back to Bill Barber Park.
VENTA SPUR LOOP-BACK OPTION…
Bypass Hicks Canyon Trail End and go on to Jeffrey Rd., just 0.18 miles further. Turn right/downhill on Jeffrey and ride 1.1 miles down to the JOST. Just 0.23 miles past Irvine Blvd. you will see the end of the spur trail. Ride it back to Peters Canyon Wash.
TRAIL RATINGS * to *****
Trail Surface = ***** Very decent concrete or blacktop surfaces. You do not notice it, which is good, and merits a 5*. Portions of the trail along the wash are developed as a gracious lighted walk with some sections of trailside bollard lighting. The width is about that of a one lane road. (FWIW: Irvine’s standard for a bikeway lane is 11’ plus 2’ shoulders.)
Scenery = *** to **** This is an urban ride. That rushing stream is in a concrete channel. However, the lower portion along Harvard is a landscaped greenbelt ride to the Incredible Edible Park – which is also the start of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Trail (o.k.a. The Walnut Trail) . From there you jog over to the wash and ride along the eastern side. Here you can view different motifs in flood control engineering. This portion is landscaped, frequently on both sides, so – not a bad looking ride.
Facilities = **** What they have is nice. As is customary, the trailheads and pit stops are in the nearby local parks. There are trail wayside water fountains in the upper wash by Bryan Ave., and at the mouth of the Venta Spur Trail.
"TRAIL HEADS" - actually close local parks...
The main trailheads with parking, water, restrooms and more are:
Bill Barber Park at Barranca and Harvard. 4 Civic Center Plaza. GE: 33.688272° -117.822792°
Harvard Athletic Park at Harvard and Walnut . 14701 Harvard Ave. GE: 33.708849° -117.798766°
The Incredible Edible Park at Harvard and Deerfield. GE: 33.703427° -117.799953°
It has a dirt strip for parking but no restrooms and no water until you head east on the ATST Trail for a bit. The park is a Second Harvest farm project supplying fresh food to the local food banks.