Best Nature Trail Orange County 2013 - Badlands and Seaview Trails at Badlands Park
31671 Isle Vista
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
These trails overlap to provide a raucous mix of steep canyon plant life, gnarled geologic formations, an ancient beach, and helicopter-high views of the coastline and ocean. You get all that, plus an excellent—okay, 50/50—chance of seeing a roadrunner on an easy-to-moderate hike of less than 3 miles. Wild local kids of the '60s and '70s called the area Sands and would ditch school to hang out or camp overnight on the 10 million-year-old sandy beach. Sandstone cliffs line the ancient beach, which now looms 780 feet above sea level. Early OC builders pillaged the sand to make their cement, stripping away topsoil in the process, so the cliffs began to erode because of the rainwater rushing down from Laguna Ridge. If you have a thing for badlands and have seen the Arizona and South Dakota specimens, you'll enjoy this miniature version. Along the trail, a glance can become a mental snapshot of blooming anise in the foreground, the badlands below, and, way down and beyond, ocean and sky. On the next clear day, take this hike—you'll see from Palos Verdes to South Laguna. After exploring the Badlands, walk farther south on the trail to take mental or actual panoramas sweeping from Saddleback Mountain to San Clemente Island, from Salt Creek past the Harbor to San Clemente and on toward San Diego. While you're enjoying this mad beauty, get a perverse pleasure from how annoyed the mansion owners must be that we have access. Badlands Park was dedicated in 1990 and became a county park in 1992. In 1995, the battle to stop the housing development from destroying the Laguna Ridge was lost. But the county successfully sued the developers who had painted the curb red to prevent access. So park freely on their hoity-toity street. There is one handicapped parking space near the picnic tables, but several sets of stairs and sandy or gravelly inclines may thwart wheelchairs on the trail.