By John McKinney
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Get the most out of your time on the trail! Inspiration, information, practical tips & entertaining stories
El Modena Trail
2.5 mile loop with 300-foot elevation gain
One of Orange County’s oldest settlements, incorporated in 1888, the City of Orange now numbers some 140,000 residents. How do all those people fit into the city’s 27 square miles? Get an answer to that question by taking a hike to a trio of promontories in the Orange Hills, where summit vistas include most of the city’s residences, as well as what remains of the natural environment in the city and county of Orange.
A mile-long ridgetop parkland, which appears as Santiago Oaks Regional Park on most maps and El Modena Open Space on a few, rises above the city and offers the hiker a rigorous hill-climb over slopes blanketed with thick clumps sage and prickly-pear cactus. Considering the highest summit in these hills is but 806 feet in elevation, clear-day vistas are mighty good, particularly to the west across northern Orange County to the LA basin and beyond, and north toward the San Gabriel Mountains.
The trail system can be accessed from several trailheads in the neighborhood off Cannon Street. All the usual warnings about potential hazards are posted at these trailheads but no information about the trails.
Directions to trailhead: From the Costa Mesa Freeway (55) in the city of Orange, exit on Chapman Avenue and drive two miles east to Cannon Street. Turn left and drive 1.3 miles to Patria Court, where you’ll find curbside parking close to the northernmost trailhead. (As you motor up Cannon Street, notice a trio of trailheads on your left.)
The hike: The trail parallels Cannon Street, then abruptly turns west and climbs very steeply up to the ridgeline. Up top, the landscape reminded me of a none-too-friendly desert island with red, gray, brown and white volcanic rocks and prickly cholla cactus.
Once you reach the ridgetop the views are good, and they get better as you ascend the first hill and hike highpoint. Look west over the metropolis and give thanks for special places like this open space where you can get away from it all, and look down at it all. “Don’t kill our hills!” is the rallying cry of conservationists committed to preserving other parts of these Orange Hills that are threatened by development.
Contemplate hillside preservation as you continue with the southbound path which dips, climbs a lesser hill, and extends to the top of a third hill. (You’ll pass two unsigned connector trails that lead steeply down to Cannon Street, should you wish to shorten your adventure.)
From atop summit #3, it appears as if you’ve reached the end of the trail, but no, look to the right, north, for an extremely steep footpath that plunges through the brush over rocky slopes. As the path nears a neighborhood and a water tank, it merges with an old dirt road that bends east to meet Cannon Street. Walk the sidewalk or bike path along Cannon Street back to Patria Court
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