Desert cactus in bloom, horses walking alongside peacocks, blue herons flying over egrets and pelicans, Hikers winding through avocado groves, and a giant orange balloon always floating in the sky above you — these are just some of the amazing sights you’ll see during a trip to Irvine, a master planned community in the heart of Orange County, California.
When you think of Orange County, you might imagine Mickey ears and lifeguard towers, but Irvine, an inland city boasting the most green space of the entire county, offers a mind-boggling 300 miles of on-road cycling and 50 miles of off-road hiking and biking trails. For outdoor adventure lovers, Irvine is about to become your new favorite adventure spot that can easily be added into another Orange County vacation or planned all on its own.
But don’t just take my word for it, I talked to Alex Spiczenski, a field naturalist at Irvine Ranch Conservancy about what makes Irvine’s outdoor scene so special.
Hi Alex! What type of programs do they offer in Irvine?
We offer a variety of programs including interpretive short hikes, full moon night hikes, fitness hikes and mountain bike rides of varying distances, yoga, landscape painting, native plant nursery, birding, and children programs (ages 2-6, 6-10, and 9-12)
Can anyone join?
While some programs might have a minimum age, anyone is free to join as long as they sign up beforehand on our website letsgooutside.org.
Do you have any seasonal spring or summer programs?
We have some seasonal hikes such as wildflower hikes or distance hikes that can only be done when it’s not super hot outside. We also have our native seed farm and plant nurseries that work seasonally (planting, weeding, and harvesting).
I saw that you have yoga in Boomer Canyon? What can one expect from that experience?
During our yoga program, we go on a short hike (usually around 1 mile) on one of our surrounding trails. Afterwards, we are lead through an hour of meditative yoga surrounded by the sounds of nature.
Who leads these programs?
We have a large core of volunteers that have gone through our volunteer program. Depending on what they want to do, they can become trail guides/docents, farm/land stewards, trail crew, mountain bike guides/docents, equestrian guides/docents, or work with our fire watch program. For the yoga portion of the program, we have a partnership with a local yoga instructor.
What makes Irvine unique for outdoor recreation?
Irvine is a great place for outdoor recreation. We have thousands of acres of natural open space just minutes from civilization, and a lot of it can be accessed 7 days a week. We have tons of great opportunities to experience the outdoors through guided programs as well, and the best part is they are free to the public!
Which is your favorite activity and why?
My favorite activity is our weekly Thursday Morning Trek. This hike is held at various locations and is around 6 miles of hiking. This provides us with an excellent workout while also giving us some time to stop and check out some of the local plants and animals that we see along the trail.
The Great Park Balloon is a great place to start your adventuring you’ll be able to get high in the air and scout out all the mountains and hills you’ll cover once you’re back on the ground. The Great Balloon is a thrilling adventure for the whole family and even my “fear of heights” friend loved the experience. From there, pick one or two of our favorite activities from the list below to have one heck of an adventure in the OC.
From biking trails to horseback riding, hiking around avocado groves to yoga in the park, here are our top 7 things to do outdoors in Irvine.
- 1) Biking the Mountain to Sea Trail – The 22-mile roundtrip through the hills of Irvine to the coastal views of the Pacific Ocean is unlike any other in the county, and showcases the diversity of Irvine’s green spaces . The path is mainly flat but if the length seems too difficult for you, rent an electric bike from Pedego Irvine.
- 2) Mountain Bike in Bommer Canyon – Set up a rental at Trail’s End Cycling, where the experienced crew can walk you through exactly how to get the most out of your mountain bike, size you properly and give you a trail map for the best route.
- 3) Orchard Hills Evening Hike – There’s nothing like going on a three-mile strenuous hike after work or a long day to let off some steam. The Orchard Hills hike winds through avocado orchard and up towards the peaks of the Irvine hills and, on a clear day, has views of the Pacific Ocean. You can sign up for the guided hike on Let’s Go Outside. The group hike is capped at 20 spaces, so sign up early.
- 4) Yoga at Bommer Canyon – Warm up with a light one-mile walk around Bommer Canyon before returning to your mat for a 60-minute yoga class. Let your worries wash away you as you listen to the birds chirp and feel your hair blow in the wind.
- 5) San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary – This sanctuary is truly that — it’s 12 miles of hiking trails that birdwatchers and animal lovers will never want to leave. Bring the camera to snap photos of egrets, pelicans, yellow warblers, and blue herons.
- 6) Horseback Ride at Irvine Regional Park – Take in the scenery and let the horses do the work, you might even run into a few peacocks while out on the trails.
- 7) Quail Hike Preserve – One of the only dog-friendly hikes in Irvine, the 2.8-mile easy walk along a wild nature trail is known for wild flowers and was once apart of the historic Irvine cattle ranch. This is one wilderness experience where I tell people to bring their phone! You can tune into an audio tour of the hike (or download as a podcast) so you can learn about the area while you’re actually in it. How cool is that?