Birth of a Creek

We were in Orange County, California this past weekend with a couple of free hours; time enough for a morning hike. A Google search of nearby trails led us to Santiago Oaks Regional Park, a 1,269-acre oasis of semi-wilderness in the midst of SoCal’s urban sprawl.

This secluded refuge offers hikers, bikers and equestrians the natural charm of mountain vistas, an orange grove, a meandering creek and a mature forest of many species of trees. Wildlife abounds. The park website warns: “This wilderness area is characterized by certain inherent dangers. These dangers include mountain lions, rattlesnakes, poison oak, and rugged terrain.” While we did not encounter mountain lions or snakes, we found our share of rugged terrain.

A series of well-marked interconnecting trails leads through shady groves and lookouts that provide awe-inspiring views of Orange and the surrounding foothills. Our 3.93-mile hike had us gaining a total of 800 feet in elevation while burning 231 calories in 1 hour 20 minutes and 6 seconds. (Metrics courtesy Mary’s Garmin smartwatch.)

Threading its way through the park is Santiago Creek, born of the rain that falls in the nearby northern Santa Ana Mountains. The creek flows freely through the mountain canyons until it reaches a dam at Irvine Lake. From there is flows through Irvine Regional Park, encounters Villa Park Dam, and then continues its journey west, flowing through Santiago Oaks Regional Park. During wet years (which 2015 certainly is not), its 29-miles journey ends when it reaches the Santa Ana River.

Santiago Oaks Regional Park is open year round 7 a.m. to sunset. Trails may be closed for up to three days after rain. Parking fees: $3 per vehicle entry Monday – Friday; $5 Saturday – Sunday; Higher for some holidays and events.

Stepping stones over the creek near mark the start of the hiking trails.

Step stones over the creek near mark the start of the hiking trails.

trail view

Villa Park Dam is an embankment dam on Santiago Creek. Along with the upstream Santiago Dam, the dam serves primarily for flood control for the cities of Villa Park, Orange, Tustin and Santa Ana and also regulates the inflow of Santiago Creek into the Santa Ana River.

Villa Park Dam is an embankment dam on Santiago Creek. Along with the upstream Santiago Dam, the dam serves primarily for flood control for the cities of Villa Park, Orange, Tustin and Santa Ana and regulates the inflow of Santiago Creek into the Santa Ana River. Not much flood control takes place this year as California experiences a record-breaking drought.

GPS track of our 3.93-mile hike

GPS track of our 3.93-mile hike

Signs remind you who is supposed to yield to whom on the steep trails.

Signs remind you who yields to whom on the steep trails.

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