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Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is a treasure trove of trails in Orange County.
Twenty-three miles of dirt roads and single track for hikers, bikers, and equestrians roll through hills and valleys of forest, grassland, and trickling streams.
The park is full of interesting landforms and geology, but by far the most unique is Red Rock Canyon, where bronze and beige-colored cliffs and swirling sandstone pop out of a furrowed hillside. The amazing geology seems quite out of place in Orange County.
It’s as if the red-tinted rock formations were transported from the canyonlands of Utah.
This striated sandstone is the trace of a shallow sea bed, which existed here millions of years ago.
Shifting sands beneath the waves were frozen in time by successive deposits, then re-exposed by later erosion as the rock formations you can see today. There are multiple ways to reach Red Rock Canyon through Whiting Ranch’s network of trails, but the route mapped here utilizes the park’s two hiker-only trails, Billy Goat and Red Rock Canyon.
Begin from Santiago Canyon Road, at the Gate 10 Park Entrance.
This is a marked but rather inconspicuous gate along the highway.
There is no parking lot, but you can park along the narrow dirt shoulder and walk in.
No fee or sign-in is required, but entry is only allowed from 7 AM to sunset, and trails may close following rain. Beyond the gate is Whiting Spur Road, a multi-use trail.
Follow it only briefly before turning right on the narrower Billy Goat Trail, which heads down into a brushy valley with nice views.
You’ll see the craggy and chaparral-covered hills of the park’s interior laid out before you.
The trail then bends and heads uphill, taking switchbacks to gain even better views on a ridgeline.
From there you can see the sandstone outcrops of Red Rock Canyon peeking over neighboring hills.
Follow the trail along the downward-sloping ridge to rejoin a multi-use trail in a tree-lined streambed. In a short distance, the multi-use trail meets the junction with Red Rock Trail, another narrow trail that heads up the adjacent valley into Red Rock Canyon.
This gradual uphill deals average scenery at first, but all of a sudden you’ll turn a corner and the rocks will appear.
As you get closer, they become even more impressive.
Take time to explore the many alcoves and ledges among the pocketed bands of stone, and soak in the views all around.
The canyon feels quite remote even though civilization is not so far away.
You can scramble on the rocks to reach higher viewpoints, but use caution because parts can be sandy and loose.
Return the way you came, or explore a longer loop after rejoining the main trail network. Sources: http://www.thehikersway.com/hiking-by-area/santa-ana-mountains/whiting-ranch-red-rock-canyon-hike/ http://www.ocparks.com/parks/whiting/ http://www.ocparks.com/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=63142 http://www.ocparks.com/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=15842