TRAILBEAR HOOFS IT: The Dana Headlands Open Space Trail System
Dana Point, CA
OVERVIEW – THE HEADLANDS TRAIL
In preparing for the Dana Headlands Trail, abandon those things which make life worth living: your horse, your road bike, mountain bike, in-line skates, skate board, Xootr, wheelchair and pets. Especially Rover. You are entering the realm of the Pacific Pocket Mouse. Said mouse is Endangered, which means that he has more lawyers and advocates that you will ever see. Make nice, or else.
This is not a bike trail or handicap accessible. You are going to have to hoof this one. Good shoes, camera, binoculars, water and a hiking staff are useful.
The Headlands trail is a 2.11 mile loop around Dana Point – the point, not the town. It starts and ends at the new Nature Interpretative Center at the upper end of Green Lantern St. There are other hike alternatives starting at the Strand Vista Park on Selva Rd. You have a lot of options in putting a hike together.
The best map was found at the OC Register site, included in an article on dogs on the trail.
Click on the maps tab. The official map is light years less helpful than this one.
The Dana Headlands Trail provides assorted ocean, beach and harbor views and a nice walk with close-up views of the California Coastal Scrub community while traversing a collection of new open space parks: Harbor Point Park, Headlands Conservation Park, Hilltop Park and South Strands Biological Open Space. Open Space means – don’t be looking for tot lots, mowed lawns, picnic tables or that sort of thing.
The trail is generally four feet wide and heavily fenced. Do NOT think of Tiptoeing Thru the Tulips off this trail. The surface varies between compacted native soil (sand, clay, etc.), concrete on the sidewalk portions and blacktop on the little bikeway. The total ascent was 352’; total descent was 309’. There is a bit of up and down. However, TB did it in flat soled shoes he bikes in (no cleats), starting at the ...
THE NATURE INTERPRETATIVE CENTER, N33.46133 W117.71117
The TrailBear started and fiinished his hike up at the very new City of Dana Point Nature Interpretative Center up on the headland. Don't look for it on Google Earth. The 2007 coverage is very outdated. The roads are in,the center open. There is a small parking lot and additional parking on one side of Scenic Drive. Out of season or with good timing, you can make this the Trailhead du Jour. There is a water fountain and a pair of nice unisex cabin restrooms in the back of the center.
However, on a weekend in High Summer, good luck and write if you find a parking space. A better trailhead choice would be the Strand Vista Park further north. There is a lot more parking there – and much better views (less headland in the way).
Bush hat on head, vest loaded with camera, recorder, GPS and a few bear bars, hiking pole in paw, TrailBear strode forth into the scrub of the Headlands Conservation Park, heading for …
HEADLANDS CONSERVATION PARK, OVERLOOK #1, N33.46078 W117.71235
The trail is fenced on both sides to about 4.5’ high. They really do want you to stay on the trail. Who knows what they would do if you were found wandering through the scrub, but it might be a YouTube Moment. The park is owned by the Center for Natural Lands Management and they do warn that off-trail and after-hours use will be prosecuted as trespass.
This is Pacific Pocket Mouse country. There is a population on this headland and another down at Camp Pendleton. Period. Don’t expect to see any. They estimate the total population to be under 200. There are probably more Friends of the Pocket Mouse and pocket mouse advocates than there are mice.
TrailBear hikes on, visiting Overlooks #2, #3, #4 and #5 in turn. Each is equipped with a small bench for your viewing pleasure. The time for this hike appears to have been in April. The flowers have finished and are drying on the bushes today. By 0.8 miles, the trail is climbing up to Dana Strand Rd. to avoid a gnarly bit of cliffs. Darn! That bit would have superb views up the coast and down onto the beach. Hike up the steps to …
DANA STRAND RD., N33.46247 W117.71342
Here there is highly contested parking on the inshore side of the road and none on the seaward side. Must be fun in summer. The fenced off preserve is on your right. Notice the street which was torn out for more preserve.
Down a bit further is the upper portion of The Strand, a very expensive real estate development which is not selling at all well in this economic climate. You can read in The WSJ of price reductions. You could snap up a lot for a mere $8,000,000. Wonder if they would let you put a trailer on it while you built something? Descend on the sidewalk to the junction with the …
SOUTH STRAND BEACH SWITCHBACK TRAIL, N33.46410 W117.71289
Do we have switchbacks! Down they go to access the beach below. There is a good deal of traffic on them – walkers, bare-footed surfer dudes, ladies on cell phone and such. From the top of the trail there is a grand view up the coast. Down there are the empty grassy lots of the lower Strand. Some mega-homes are finished, more are under construction. Beyond the one being done in stone on the third tier is the Dana Strand Park – excellent views from there and a good trail head. Continue on down the sidewalk to …
THE BIKE/PED ACCESS, N33.46546 W117.71253
Just across the street from The Strand gatehouse is a wide landscaped blacktop bike/ped access trail along the edge of The Strand development leading up to CA 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway. Here we are back on familiar bikie ground:. There is a sewer below it. At the top of the trail you are at the upper Strand gatehouse. Across the driveway is the new…
HILLTOP PARK, N33.46518 W117.70896
The trail here is a set of steps leading up to the top of an artificial cliff. That lot gouged out below is shown on the trail map as a parking lot. Someday, perhaps. Today it is neither finished nor open for parking. Continue on up the trail as it climbs over the top of the headland to a junction with a side trail to a place where, like Balboa, you can be …
SILENT, UPON A PEAK IN DANA POINT, N33.46424 W117.70928
With no apologies whatsoever to John Keats, the TrailBear ascends to the uppermost of the headland trail lookouts. This one has a 360 degree view. On a sunny day with good seeing and light, it must be outstanding. Today, with a bit of marine layer (low clouds), it’s not half bad. Sit down, pull out the binoculars and glass the terrain in all directions at your leisure. Then back down the side trail, onward over the hill, down the steps to the street, along the sidewalk and dodge traffic to the last of the little parks, the …
HARBOR POINT PARK, N33.46168 W117.70886
This park is nestled in the corner between Green Lantern St. and Cove Rd., which steeply descends the cliffs to Dana Point Harbor below. There is the usual irrigated scrub and three overlooks. At one the masts of the Pilgrim can be seen, but the rest of the boat is lost below the cliffs. Today there is some sort of Opening Day occasion in the harbor.
Boats are proceeding in procession up, down and around the channels. They have “dressed ship” with nautical flags outlining the rigging from bow to stern. That one is signaling “hurricane warning”. Wonder where he got those flags. Not usually included in a signal flag set.
The Dana Pt. West Yacht Club is prepared to serve lunch in the parking lot to a horde – white table clothes and all. The Dana Pt. Yacht Club is blocked off by valets at the barricades – and TrailBear’s hope of another Phillie Cheese Steak goes down in flames. Not a good day for it. Nothing left to do but trudge up the sidewalk to the Nature Center and close the loop on this scenic hike.
OPTIONS: STRAND VISTA PARK, MORE TRAIL & A BEACH HIKE LOOP
Strand Vista Park on Selva Rd. is well named. It is the best trailhead in this area. It is TB's Trailhead of Choice for the Salt Creek Trail (free & views). There are superb views from the bluff top trail – itself a work of art. There is a lot of parking (free), a funicular elevator down to the beach, the Mid-Strand Staircase to join a trail down to the beach from the Veterans’ Memorial Plaza at the south end of the park and a modern restroom at the north end.
FWIW – notice the tsunami siren at the restroom. If you are up there, you can watch it come in. If you are down on the beach … you have a personal problem. The first tier of ocean front homes might have issues. The third tier should have ringside seats.
If you want a beach hike loop, park at Strand Vista, head south along the bluff trail to the South Strand Beach Switchback Trail and down the switchbacks. At the bottom you can take the trail under the bluffs along the beach for 0.4 miles to the funicular. Being a HardBody, you will, of course, eschew the funicular and run the stairs. (TrailBear will wait for the funicular.) Dogs are allowed on the switchbacks, the beach trail, the bluff trail, the north stairs – but not the Mid-Strand Staircase. With the Mid Strand Staircase, you can do a Figure Eight hike. Enjoy.
Putting icons on the map on foot.