A long-awaited visitor center with nature exhibits and an outdoor classroom is now open at Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.
The center, which helps educate hikers and bikers about the plants and animals that inhabit the park’s 4,500 acres of coastal canyons, opened this month, also adding an additional feature: new bathrooms.
The Orange County Supervisory Board approved plans to build the center in 2017, and a $ 1 million grant from the California Coastal Conservancy helped fund the 2,600 square foot facility.
“It’s like a movie trailer for what to look for in the park,” OC Park ranger Bryan Valladares said. “There are audio clips of its cultural history, topographic maps with points of interest with buttons that illuminate suggested hikes, and lots of basic information about plants and animals.”
In the future, the center will be used for larger thematic presentations on nature with experts.
The wilderness park, which was originally part of the Juaneno or Acajchemem tribal lands, has 30 trails ranging from easy to difficult. Some run along the lower part of the canyons, while others offer access to coastal vistas.
Car Wreck Trail is one of the most difficult hikes in the park. It ventures high into the hills above Laguna Beach.
The name of the trail refers to a 1946 Dodge that is still there. The hike to view the car was so popular that the park created the path to access it in 2013. From here hikers and mountain bikers can see Catalina Island and Mount Baldy. It’s a nearly four mile loop.
The longest trail in the park goes through Wood Canyon. There are a lot of trees and shade. It is flat and is considered to require moderate effort. Hikers, walkers and trail runners use it.
What makes the wilderness park special are its varied microclimates and the different plants that live in these habitats. Two streams, Aliso Creek and Wood Creek, cross it.
The park is home to deer, bobcats and coyotes. It is also popular among birding enthusiasts due to its range of songbirds such as the roadrunner, California skinny lily of the valley, and the spotted honeysuckle found in mugwort. California quail can also be seen along the trails.
“My favorites are the birds of prey,” Valladares said. “Like harriers and red-shouldered and red-tailed harriers. they are at the top of the food chain and I love to see their behavior. It’s fascinating to watch them fly away.
Rick Schaffer, a resource specialist at the park, said he hopes the new center will help people appreciate and save the natural environment.
“We hope that people will engage intellectually and take this with them and that it will continue to inspire them when they return home,” he said.
Those who are really interested are also invited to become park volunteers. To find out more, apply at the center of nature or online.
If you are going to: 28373 Alicia Parkway, the park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset.
Recommended hike: Follow Aliso Creek Trail south for approximately 1.5 miles, then turn onto Wood Canyon Trail. After about a mile or so you will go up the Coyote Run trail and then walk the Nature Loop trail which has a good view of the canyon. Turn left from the south end of the Nature Loop trail to return to Wood Canyon Trail. From there turn right and walk back as you came to the visitor center. It’s about 7 miles.