Photo by Heather SwaimI flew Seahawks in Desert Storm, have climbed mountains on several continents, run 50-mile races through the Mojave because I can, almost died in Arizona a few weeks ago, watched a man drop dead on a snow-covered Mexican peak, just bought a house 10,000 feet up the Rockies—and still find adventure and beauty in Orange County. Although OC is pretty much house-house-house-Home Depot-house-apartment complex-freeway-Dippity Donuts, a few open spaces remain, among them one of my favorites, Trabuco Canyon. While walking or riding under its thick canopy of oak, treated to the scent of laurel and sage, I can nearly forget the Taco Bells and nail salons not more than 10 miles away. The area feels remote and wild, and Trabuco Trail—which climbs 5.8 miles from the canyon floor to the Main Divide—leads through some of Southern California's most beautiful ecosystems: the creek's lush riparian habitat gives way to sun-drenched, sage-covered slopes and, eventually, alpine stands of Coulter pine and Douglas fir. Tight switchbacks, numerous creek crossings and varied trail conditions make this a favorite of outdoor athletes. It has become a staple of local endurance events—it's the final, thrilling descent of the Vision Quest mountain bike race and a section of the demanding San Juan Trail 50K trail run.
The single-track trail begins at the end of Trabuco Creek Road. At 1.7 miles, stay right at the intersection with West Horsethief Trail and climb to the Main Divide. Enjoy the view on both sides of the Main Divide, then retrace your route to the trailhead. Access the trailhead via Trabuco Creek Road, a rough dirt road that heads north from the intersection with Live Oak Canyon Road (near O'Neill Regional Park). Park at the Holy Jim Canyon turn-off (4.7 miles, just past the fire station) or at a small parking area one mile farther up Trabuco Creek Road.