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Top 5 hikes to keep cool as summer heats up — and how to stay safe

June 18, 2017

Forever views from the mountains to the sea, wildflowers in abundance, green grasses that we haven’t seen in years.

With the official start of summer just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to explore our county that just happens to be at its best after the storms of winter.

Below we offer five great hikes — walks if you prefer. But stepping out also means choosing where and when to go to minimize heat and maximize shade.

There aren’t too many places in Orange County that offer both cool ocean breezes and big trees, so be sure to add timing to the mix. My skin cancer doctor advises avoiding exposure during peak UV hours, from about 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

There are plenty of other tips to reduce the sun’s punishment. Here are my top five:

1. Slather on plenty of sunblock. I thought I was thorough until I watched one of our photographers. He used about twice as much block as I do and looked pasty white for a few minutes. But he also is far more successful than I am at avoiding skin cancer.

2. Wear a hat. Baseball caps look great, but they only offer partial shade for your face. My photographer friend wears hats with big brims to protect the back of his neck and ears.

3. Consider long-sleeve shirts and pants, especially clothes that offer UV protection. Several buddies of mine with fair skin swear they will live longer by covering up.

4. Carry plenty of water. Plan on about a liter of water per person each hour. The adage for peeing is clear and copious. Remember, heat stroke can kill.

5. Electrolytes are critical if you exercise for more than an hour. That means sodium — salt — potassium, calcium, chlorine, phosphate and magnesium. Bananas are great, so are energy bars and drinks.

OK, we’re ready to hit the great outdoors. Here are my five best bets spread around the county:

Crystal Cove State Park, El Moro side

This park is about 2,400 acres with some 15 miles of mixed-use trails. Mountain bikers yield to everyone else, hikers yield to equestrians, and horses rule.

Where: For the back country, the entrance is near El Morro Elementary School at 8471 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. Restrooms and a Visitor’s Center are next to the parking lot.

Fees: Day use is $15 per vehicle.

Tip: For a leisurely hike with canyon walls blocking some sun, stay on the mostly flat and well-worn El Morro Canyon Trail. For something more vigorous, check out any of the hillside trails. One of my favorite trails is Morro Ridge Road. The fastest way to get there is to take the first fork off to the right from Canyon Trail and head up.

Wide fire roads leave plenty of room for everyone. The park’s high point is 1,013 feet above the ocean and offers 360-degree views that take in the ocean, Catalina Island, Saddleback Valley and Saddleback Mountain.

Information:, 949-494-3539.

El Dorado East Regional Park

Sandwiched between the San Gabriel River Freeway and the San Gabriel River, this huge park encompasses 388 acres. It offers four miles of paved bike paths, several dirt hiking trails and most of the park is covered with huge shade trees such as oak and sycamore.

The park offers two stocked fishing lakes (license required if you are older than 15), a way cool turtle pond and a nature center. Other features include model plane and boat areas, an archery range, numerous barbecue grills, pedal boat rentals and a train ride.

Where: 7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach. It’s especially close and convenient if you live in Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor or Cypress.

Fees: $5 Monday through Thursday, $6 Friday, $7 Saturday and Sunday; cash only.

Information:, 562-570-1771.

Juanita Cooke Greenbelt trail

This 2.5-mile hidden gem of a trail is known to many Fullerton residents and offers a slice of the natural world in what otherwise is a mostly urban-suburban area. The dirt and wood chip trail is open to horses, cyclists and walkers.

Getting there: Park at the southern end of the North Justice Center courthouse, 1275 N. Berkeley Ave., Fullerton.

Navigation: The northern part of the trail appears to end at Bastanchury Road, but keep going. After a brief walk along Morelia Avenue, you soon pick up the trail and continue to Laguna Lake, a wonderful place to rest, circle back or keep going.

While the lake at Hermosa Drive and Santa Rosa Place is the official terminus, you can take a rough path all the way to Imperial Highway.

Little-known fact: The trail is named after an equestrian with the Fullerton Recreation Riders who helped get the trail built.

Santiago Oaks Regional Park

Why: This place is often off the radar, yet it offers views of Catalina Island, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and everything in between.

What: 1,269 acres with old oaks and massive sycamores offers a dense canopy of shade while roosters crow from nearby yards and wild parrots fly overhead.

Entrance: 2145 N. Windes Drive, Orange.

Fees: $3 per vehicle Monday through Friday, $5 Saturday and Sunday.

Tips: Check out the Nature Center that was once an old ranch house. Once you’re on the interconnecting trail system, test yourself on one of the steep trails and don’t stop until you have a view.

Information:, 714-973-6620.

Quail Hill Trail

This is an easily accessible oasis in the midst of development that is open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians.

Cool thing: The trail is groomed enough to accommodate people with walkers.

Where: 34 Shady Canyon, Irvine.

More: Quail Hill Trail sits on about 200 acres of gently rolling land. Half is close enough to the 5 Freeway that you hear noise from vehicles. Still, there’s just enough of a rise on the trail’s southern side for you to see the Santa Ana Mountains.

Extras: Super-clean restrooms, a nice picnic area, easy parking. It’s no surprise, since the site is owned by the city of Irvine and maintained by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.

Tip: Take your cellphone with you and go on a free, self-guided tour. Call 949-743-5943, punch in the number on the marker near you, and learn.

See you on the trail.

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