By John McKinney
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Get the most out of your time on the trail! Inspiration, information, practical tips & entertaining stories
O'Neill Park Trail
Live Oak Trail
From Trabuco Canyon to Ocean Vista Point is 3 miles round trip with 600-foot elevation gain
The soldier marching with Captain Gaspar de Portola's 1769 expedition who lost his firearm in this hilly region would no doubt be astonished at the number of Orange County place- names inspired by his mistake. Trabuco, which means "blunderbuss" in Spanish, now names a canyon, a creek, a plain, a trail, a road and even a ranger district of the Cleveland National Forest.
If the unknown soldier who lost his blunderbuss trekked this way again he would be amazed at the names on the land, and even more amazed at the land itself, so drastically has it changed. Maybe though, he would recognize Trabuco Canyon, at least that part of it saved from suburbanization by O'Neill Regional Park. Here the modern trekker can explore a small slice of the pastoral Southern California of two centuries ago.
This land of grassy meadows, rolling hills and oak woodland was originally part of Rancho Trabuco, two leagues granted to Santiago Arguello in 1841 by Mexican Governor Alvarado. The rancho had various lessees and owners until it was purchased by James Flood, a wealthy businessman and his partner Richard O'Neill, a packing house owner. O'Neill built up quite a ranching empire here and elsewhere in California. O'Neill's Orange County property passed to various heirs who, in turn, gave 278 acres of Trabuco Canyon to Orange County for a park in 1948. Today, after various gifts and purchases, the park encompasses 3,000 acres of woodland and brushy hills, taking in Trabuco Canyon and neighboring Live Oak Canyon.
This hike leaves the wooded canyon behind and ascends to Ocean Vista Point. The vistas include nearby peaks, canyons, and the promised Pacific.
Directions to trailhead: From the San Diego Freeway (5) in Lake Forest, exit on El Toro Road and head 7.5 miles east to the junction known as Cooks Corner. Santiago Canyon Road angles left (north) but you veer right on Live Oak Canyon Road (S19) and follow Live Oak Canyon Road east then south 3 miles to the O’Neill Regional Park entrance on the right. Past the park entry station, make a right to reach the parking area and signed Live Oak Trail and Spaulding Nature Trail trailhead in a quarter mile.
The hike: Continue past the junction with Edna Spaulding Trail on your left and head north. When you reach some hillside water tanks, the trail very briefly joins the water tank road, and then you’ll resume with Live Oak Trail on the climb up the west wall of the canyon.
You’ll pass junctions with Pawfoot Trail, Homestead Trail and Coyote Canyon trail as you ascend along a ridge. The views begin before the vista point and what you see are two scenes typical of this side of Orange County: red-tailed hawks circling over classic Southland ranching country and suburbs, as well as suburbs-in-the-making. From the 1,492-foot summit, enjoy clear-day coastal views from Santa Monica Bay to San Clemente, with Catalina Island floating on the horizon.
After enjoying the views, choose between two or more return routes. One way back is by retracing your steps on Live Oak Trail, then joining Coyote Trail to Homestead Trail and back to Live Oak Trail. Another way to go is by way of Valley Vista Trail which drops steeply into Live Oak Canyon. An old park service road paralleling the highways returns you to the heart of the park.
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