Shady Canyon Trail


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Shady Canyon Trail Facts

States: California
Counties: Orange
Length: 4 miles
Trail end points: Juanita Moe Trail at Sand Canyon Ave. and Quail Hill Pkwy. and Bonita Canyon Trail at Bonita Canyon Dr. and Shady Canyon Dr.
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Concrete
Trail category: Greenway/Non-RT
ID: 6368967

Shady Canyon Trail Description

The Shady Canyon Trail is an incredibly scenic route along Shady Canyon Drive in southern Irvine. Extending through the southern reaches of the historic Irvine Ranch and protected Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, the trail is a hilly challenge well worth the effort for its dramatic views.

The route begins in the north at the Quail Hill Trailhead, which also serves the Juanita Moe Trail, a paved path around the northern edge of the Quail Hill Preserve that links to several other trails in the city's extensive network. Hikers can also access the natural-surface Quail Hill Loop Trail from the trailhead.

Views are at their most spectacular where the trail crosses Bommer Canyon. Enjoy vistas of the surrounding hills and the affluent neighborhoods nestled amongst them. At the entrance to Turtle Rock, head north on the Turtle Rock Trail for a pleasant tour through the neighborhood and ultimate emergence on the popular University Trail.

At trail's end, turn right on the Bonita Canyon Trail to reach Irvine's University High School, or cross the road and turn left on the trail to reach the edge of Newport Beach.

Parking and Trail Access

Parking for the Shady Canyon Trail is available at the Quail Hill Trailhead (34 Shady Canyon Drive) in Irvine.

Shady Canyon Trail Reviews

just right!

I really enjoyed the option to either walk/ jog on dirt/pavement along with the beautiful landscapes, birds chirping, water streaming under the bridge was an awe moment! Bathrooms very clean! Highly recommend


This is a nice easy walking/hiking/biking trail. Separate paved path for the bikes, dirt trail for the walkers and hikers. Parking and facilities are nice and clean. Spring hikes have some views with wildflowers. Nice for the beginning hiker.


They have finished the new trailhead at Bommer Canyon. Nice restrooms, water, shady porch, picnic tables, hiking and MTB trail out behind, parking and such. Now there is a pit stop between the bottom of the climb on Culver Drive and the water point ahead on the trail. There is water and such at Turtle Rock Community Park, but you have to back track a bit.

Even better - Google Earth has updated the coverage and it shows at 33.628187° -117.805936° That wide tan stuff is the drive in. Something very EC. Looks like decomposed granite chip seal. Probably is not.

Ride on!

TrailBear and his Scorpion FS trike "Shackelton"
Heading for the Turtle Rock Trail.

An Alternate Return Path

I take this trail clockwise starting where Goldenglow hits University and dropping down into the open space to the trail. Once I've passed through Shady Canyon just before the trail crosses to the south side of Shady Canyon Rd, I veer right and follow that trail a short distance to Sunnyhill. I turn right on Sunnyhill and cross of Turtle Rock Dr. There is a path that winds up a greenbelt park, getting steeper and steeper until you've climbed up to the top where I turn right downhill on Ridgeline Dr. The first cross street is Turtle Rock Dr. I go left there downhill on the sidewalk that is on the lefthand side of the street. The first street on that side you come to is Starcrest. A greenbelt trail starts at the lower corner there. It crosses on small residential street then goes under the remaining cross-streets through tunnels. This ride is downhill all the way. After the second tunnel, the trail parallels Campus Drive before swinging right and curving around below St Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. It then crosses over Rockview Dr and continues down into the open space that parallels University where I can either swing up to University to cross over to Goldenglow or continue westward until the trail comes up onto the sidewalk on Culver just below University.




9.5 miles, hills, views. *****


Who wants to ride a trail, just to turn around and ride it back? Out N Backs – I do that all summer. I want loops with new views and fresh trail around every bend. You can do that with the Shady Canyon Loop. In the process you ride all of the Shady Canyon Trail, all of the Bonita Canyon Trail (not hard, it’s about 1.20 miles long at the moment), all of the Quail Hill Trail (.95 miles) a good portion of the University Trail and a bit of sidewalk.

I had been looking at the Shady Canyon Trail. It was on the ride list, but Irvine has over 44 miles of Class 1 trails. Looking at Google Earth, it seemed to die at the intersection of Culver, Shady Canyon and Anteater. That left over a mile down Culver and no bike lanes. Then a contact in the Public Works Department sent over a .pdf map – “City of Irvine Named Public Paved Off-Street Trails”. It showed where they had Class 1 bike trails and what names they used. It is a very handy map overlaid on the street grid.

Going up Culver it showed a Bonita Canyon Trail that joined Shady Canyon. So, they did build a bikeway up Culver from Campus. We’ve got a loop ride that is just 0.3 miles short of closing. That’s workable.

The ride came together. The Wife wanted to see a movie on Campus Dr., so we parked in one of the local commercial trail heads (o.k.a. “shopping center”). She headed off to the movie and I put the Gutterbunny together and headed east on Campus.

There it was, across the intersection of Campus and Culver (GE: 33.649966° -117.824223°) – the start of the Bonita Canyon Trail. This being Irvine, the sign consisted of a Bike Route sign and a Thataway arrow.

Irvine has lots and lots of nice trails, but their trail signage program, if they have such a thing, is from the Dark Ages. Individual trail signs are quite rare. IF you don’t have the maps and GE downloads, you fish about in the dark. I overlay waypoints onto GE then print out screen shots to use as segment maps.

LOG: 0.00 miles. Start Bonita Canyon Trail.

Cross over to the far side, zero the GPS log and start riding the Bonita Canyon Trail. This is one of those bike/ped sidewalk trails, about 11’ wide, concrete and heading uphill at better than a rail trail grade. I call them bike/walks. One suspect better than a 4% grade. Nice climb. Nice landscaping. Nice bollard lights. Really must come over after dark just to see the Irvine bike trails with their bollard lights. Bet it’s nice.

LOG 1.20 miles. Elev., 123’. GE: 33.634103° -117.827198° Start Shady Canyon Trail

We are at the end of the Bonita Canyon Trail. It’s the four way junction of Anteater Way, Culver – which now becomes Bonita Canyon Rd., and Shady Canyon. Cross over Shady Canyon to pick up the start of the Shady Canyon Trail on the far side. It’s a concrete bike/walk – and the bollard lights continue.

About 0.20 miles in, note the Irvine Ranch Water District’s water quality wetland pond, complete with ducks and egrets. They have over 30 artificial wetlands around the county to collect runoff water and encourage it to linger and clean itself. They are artificial because the natural wetlands were destroyed in the urbanization of the county. Then they found they needed them. Time to build a bunch.

LOG 2.13 miles, Elev., 340’. GE: 33.629799° -117.808860° Bommer Canyon.

The trail and I divert into Bommer Canyon to see the nice Irvine Open Space sign in front of open space. Up the road is the Bommer Canyon Cattle Camp – part of the old Irvine Ranch. Think – cows in the scrub and 50,000 acres of lima beans down below, plus orange groves, plus this and that. That was Back Then. Now you can rent it from the City of Irvine for an event. Ahead, on the ridge, are the homes of the Rather Rich. GE shows big homes not quite cheek to jowl on their lots. We suspect that the Really Rich have much more space between themselves and the neighbors. Say, half a day’s ride.

We are not welcome there. Ahead is a gate house to keep the riffraff out. The bike trail runs on the other side of a fence. Riffraff left, Rather Rich right. The median sale price in Shady Canyon (which, BTW, is not terribly shady) is $3.6 million. The market is way down. They do have better. Check out what $8.5 mil will bring in shelter.

Cross over Shady Canyon behind the gate house. Now the trail is joined by a horse trail and both start heading up hill. If you backtrack a block, you will find a park/trail head – the Turtle Rock Community Park at 1 Sunnyhill. It features two restrooms, five water fountains and other amenities. At GE: 33.632176° -117.805491°.

The trail gains altitude. Rounding a corner you find a pair of benches between a pair of bridges. Nice place to rest at GE: 33.635366° -117.795278° before continuing the climb. Just ahead 230’ is a water fountain. (Thought: Why not put the fountain with the benches?) There is another fountain further up the grade. What we need are benches and water at the vista spots so we can pretend to be “admiring the view” while breathing deeply or panting quietly.

LOG: 3.94 miles, Elev., 306’. GE: 33.638830° -117.793020° Vista View.

Saved! We know this scene. Nice vista below. That water is the Sand Canyon Dam and Reservoir down there. There in the distance are the blimp hangers over at LTA (Lighter Than Air) – the former Marine Corps base in Tustin. Now it’s a mall (Tustin Legacy) and so much more. Onward --- and upward. Keep climbing. There must be a high spot here somewhere.

LOG: 4.7 miles, Elev., 350’. GE: 33.646167° -117.788144° Gate House Pass

That is not the proper name for this spot, but there is a gate house in the pass, so Gate House Pass. It has been our goal since we started climbing down at Bommer Canyon and now it’s Downhill Time. At this point I was happy I did the route counter clockwise. This was going to be a screaming downhill. Fun Time.

I paused for pix and to watch some bikies ascent the slope. Doing trail surveys is an easy out. You can always pause for a photo and log a GPS reading. That one is a hard-body hill climber. He is churning right up the grade. The one below is bonking, or, as we say, “pausing to admire the view.” Legs must be screaming.

Check the route for obstructions – such as peds and upbound traffic. A pair of peds and otherwise clear. Try to pick a line clear of scat. Kick off and away. Yes, yes, YES !!! What delight! Only thing lacking is some sort of air siren – the Stukas had them – to let folks know you’re coming. The log showed a max speed of 32.5 mph, and that is with a bit of braking.

The hydraulic brakes on the new Gutterbunny 2010 (which was a Specialized FSRxc Expert before TB gutterbunnyed it with fenders, kick stand, bags, lights, GPS and more) are so much better than the mixed lot on Gutterbunny 2009. Takes a lot of braking to halt a 230# bear. That or a brick wall, which works, and quickly.

LOG: 5.25 miles. Elev., 188’. GE: 33.653672° -117.783583° Quail Hill Trailhead

Glide into the Quail Hill Trailhead. This is a very well executed project and one of the very few actual trail heads in the Irvine system. Water, parking, picnic tables, restrooms, etc.: the facilities are first rate for peds, bikies and horses. You can start the Shady Canyon Loop from here. Just decide: do the gut buster climb to Guard House Pass first and enjoy a long, lingering descent or go the other way round for a long climb and a screaming descent.

Pause for a few waypoints, then onward. That little bit of trail from Quail Hill to JOST Junction is called the Quail Hill Trail by Irvine. We will pretend that it’s all Shady Canyon Trail to the Junction. JOST Junction is where the Jeffrey Open Space Trail (JOST) crosses the San Diego Freeway on an overpass to end where the University Trail and the Shady Canyon Trail start. We are now on the University Trail, heading for William Mason Regional Park and the Bonita Canyon Trail to close the loop.

LOG: 8.32 miles. Elev., 74’. GE: 33.657832° -117.814795° Water District Junction

We are deep in the wild portion of the William Mason Regional Park. It’s the junction of the Woodbridge Trail and the University Trail at a “Y” called Water District Junction. Probably because of the underground pumping station right over there.

Next stop is Bobcat Junction where the Woodbridge Trail starts. After that, Rattlesnake Junction and Culver. Almost there. Up the sidewalk by University High School for 0.33 miles and we are again at the intersection of Campus and Culver, across the street from the start of the Bonita Canyon Trail. Cross over and you have done the Shady Canyon Trail and Loop.

But wait, over the music in the earbuds comes the faint sound of my pocket ringing. Remove helmet. Remove earbuds. Call back. Wife is out of the movie. Good timing. Head back up Campus to the van and home. It was a fun ride. Good exercise. Nice views. There were enough views that next time I will bring the bike binoculars (7x21)

Do it again? Ya betcha!


Total miles = 9.5. Max Speed = 32.5. Moving Average = 7.6. Moving time = 1:15. Total descent = 486’, ascent = 451’

TRAIL RATINGS… * to *****

Overall = 5*
This is a fun ride. In the roster of Great Irvine Rides, it’s there with San Diego Creek Trail and the Peters Canyon Wash Trail. Certainly the most aerobic of the three.
Scenery = 5*U The U is for Urban. For an urban trail, this had a lot of nice views and distant views. The best was the LTA vista. Still, it’s not the Chain Lakes Section of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes or the Susan River Canyon on the Bizz Johnson.

Trail surface = 4*, 5*
Concrete 11’ bikeway or blacktop one lane with center stripe and horse trail adjacent. Most was in excellent shape. Some sections had a lot of patching and some cracks. Not really noticeable. The trail was reasonably fast and seamless with only four on-grade crossings in 9.5 miles.

Facilities = 5*
The Quail Hill Trailhead is a lovely place. Attaboys to the designers. Lots of bollard lighting along the concrete bikeway sections. Two trailside water fountains in the Shady Canyon section. One on the University Trail.

A vista overlook with bench and bike rack would be nice. I’d put one at the LTA vista and another at the top of Gate House Pass with views toward Saddleback to use while “admiring the view.” Could use a fountain there rather than further over the ridge. If you are putting in a water fountain, why not do it all and create a Wayside – bench, trash, water, bike rack, view. Check out the ones on the Peters Canyon and Venta Spur Trails. There are some great waysides up there.


There are a number of good loop and semi-loop rides in the Irvine system. Check out their bikeways map. I am looking at my growing map of track logs. The real loop rides are at San Diego Creek and south of that. Northern Irvine has spike trails off the Peters Canyon Wash Trail. Some options…

Start – Back Bay Nature Center. Up the San Diego Creek Trail to the University Junction. Take the UT to Culver, up to the Bonita Canyon Trail, thence to Shady Canyon Trail, thence to JOST Junction. Cross freeway on the JOST, pick up the Freeway Trail and take it back to the San Diego Creek Trail and back to the Back Bay.

Start – Bill Barber Park. Up the SDCT to the Woodbrige Trail, thence to the UT, get on the Shady Canyon Loop around back to JOST Junction, cross the freeway on the JOST on the way back, take the Freeway Trail to the SDCT and back to Bill Barber Park. You can see other obvious variations on this.

Ride on!

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