Luckily, Irvine also has a nice selection of hiking and biking trails in the hills and open spaces of the city, many of which connect to an even more extensive trail system in the parks and open space areas beyond our borders. From fire roads and easy loops, to rugged single-track adventure trails, here are a few favorites.
What was once a key part of Irvine Company’s cattle ranching operation is now open space and restored habitat for native plants and animals... and people. The trails here are well marked and popular with casual runners and walkers as well as more seasoned trail runners and athletes. The Bommer Canyon Trailhead is located off of Shady Canyon Dr. There is parking as well as restroom facilities at the trailhead, with additional parking at the nearby Turtle Rock Community Park. The Bommer Meadow and Nature Loop trails combine to make a pleasant and not-too-challenging loop that also skirts the historic ranch buildings, which are generally closed to the public. Bommer Pass cuts up and down a hillside to avoid the closed area, and then connects to Turtle Ridge trail, and West Fork, which passes under the 73 Toll Road, offering access to all of the many trails of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, which reach all the way to the ocean. Bommer Canyon also has additional trails that are open for tour-led trail events offered through the city, and on Wilderness Access Days when Irvine Ranch Natural Landmark trails are open.
Quail Hill Loop
The 1.8-mile trail in the Quail Hill open space between the 405, Shady Canyon Dr. and University Dr. is a near perfect urban trail. It’s easy to find and access, there’s plenty of parking, and the trail has a hill that will get heart rates up and offers views of the city. Many climb the hill and return, while others take the entire loop. While it’s far from a wilderness experience, there are hawks, and snakes and other wildlife to be seen. And when it’s green from the rain, the trail offers a welcome respite from our busy lives. Our only quibble is that the far loop of the trail should connect to University Dr. and the Jeffrey Trail overpass. We understand the conservation concerns, but connecting the trail will actually reduce the creation of side trails and make the loop more useable for hikers who want to go further.
On the opposite side of Sand Canyon/Shady Canyon Dr. from the Quail Loop Trail, the Quail Trail runs behind the Quail Hill Community Center. Several gates connect into the neighborhoods, making the trail a much-used community asset. The trail then starts a steep ascent up a ridge and through the arroyos between the communities of Shady Canyon and Quail Hill. What is essentially a fire road narrows as it heads higher, with a bridge and a few switchbacks adding to the adventure. Mountain bikes frequent the trail, especially on weekend mornings, with some more courteous to those on two feet than others, so remain aware. The trail crosses through Shady Canyon and enters the Laguna Wilderness Park at around the 2-mile mark, connecting to its extensive network of trails. For those in good shape who want to venture out, starting at the Quail Hill Trailhead and being picked up at the Nix Nature Center trailhead makes for a fun and challenging hike.
San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary
The roads and trails around the marsh aren’t just for bird-watchers. There’s a variety of routes in and around the ponds. They’re basically a flat, offering an easy walk or hike for families, kids and those not up to a hilly and rocky route elsewhere. It’s a hidden natural gem that we think city, county and nonprofit stakeholders should do more to promote.
Serrano Ridge Trail
As the Quail Trail enters the Laguna Wilderness Park it becomes the Serrano Ridge Trail. During Wilderness Access Days challenging single-track trails with names like Rabbit Run, Cattle Crest, Fox Run, Butterfly Valley and Monkey Flower can be used to explore the land between and behind Shady Canyon and Bommer Canyon.
Shady Canyon Trail
This trail is a beautifully designed and maintained connector through the private community of Shady Canyon with plenty of parking on both the Quail Hill and Turtle Rock sides of the trail. The route includes a paved bikeway and an adjacent dirt trail component. One note of caution: road cyclists often treat the paved part of the route like a raceway. Though pedestrians have the right to walk on both segments, we suggest sticking to the dirt.
While one can access this trail from the bottom of Bommer Canyon, most start on top at Bommer Vista Point at the top of Summit Park Dr. There’s a small parking lot at the trailhead. The single-track trail is tremendous fun to descend, with plenty of switchbacks as it heads down. At the bottom, one can go left to the Bommer Canyon trails or right along West Fork, which offers Laguna Wilderness access, but also the Ridge Park Road trailhead, with parking available at the top of Newport Coast community.