Open space preservation on The Irvine Ranch began 125 years ago with the dedication of Irvine Regional Park – the first county park. Since then, over 60% of the Ranch has been permanently preserved, stretching 22 miles from mountains to sea.
The best way to see these wildlands is on the trail, so I joined the 3.5-mile Waterworks Nature Hike into Fremont Canyon.
Some locals call it the “Yosemite of Orange County” for its picturesque rock formations, caves and panoramic ridgelines. But another highlight is its biological diversity: from oak woodlands and rare Tecate cypress trees to mule deer and golden eagles.
“We have so much healthy native wildlife back here,” said OC Parks resource specialist Gray Crouch, who led the hike. “This biodiversity far exceeds what you’d see in other natural areas.”
Our hike started inside Irvine Regional Park and rose 680 feet, climbing up above Irvine Lake along the way.
We learned about laurel sumac, a bright-green shrub that folds its leaves along the midrib to prevent overexposure to the sun, and California sagebrush, known as “cowboy cologne” because cowboys used the aromatic plant as a natural deodorant.
I wasn’t the only one grateful to have 57,500 acres of open space so close to home on The Irvine Ranch.
“People have no idea what they’re missing,” said fellow hiker Pat Allen. “I can’t imagine anywhere else with Irvine’s population that still has this much access to such natural diversity.”