Interest and excitement continue to grow around the docent-led programs offered in Orchard Hills, in the Irvine Open Space Preserve. And for good reason: the top of the upper loop trail offers one of the most spectacular views available within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, and the lower loop is perfect for birding and family hikes. Now two new regularly-scheduled hikes will offer more opportunities to experience this view in the evening and even at night.
The Orchard Hills trail system was closed for over a year while a new trailhead facility was being constructed. Starting earlier this month, on behalf of the City of Irvine, Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff and volunteer docents resumed leading programs in the aptly-named Orchard Hills; once again bringing interested hikers to this portion of the Irvine Open Space Preserve where protected open space and active agriculture create a unique experience.
Beginning on Monday, July 27, the brand new Orchard Hills Evening Hike offers the chance to hike along 3 miles of trails that meander around the orchards on the way to the ridge-top vista. The hike will begin at 6:30 pm and end at 8:30 pm, and with Monday’s sunset at 7:53 pm, this is a great opportunity to enjoy the setting sun as you look out over Irvine and beyond. The 3-mile loop hike has several very steep climbs at a moderate pace, and the effort is rewarded with an unobstructed view to the west that won’t soon be forgotten. These hikes will be offered monthly at first, with more being added toward the end of the year.
Another new hike, beginning on Thursday, July 30, offers the chance to not only take in a sunset from the top of Orchard Hills, but to also stick around and see what the hills look like lit by moonlight during the Full Moon Hike—Orchard Hills. Monthly Full Moon Hike activities take place in several locations throughout the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, and are always very popular. The addition of the Full Moon Hike in Orchard Hills will give visitors another location to enjoy the Landmarks nocturnally. Sunset on Thursday will be at 7:50 pm, and the hike will go from 7 pm to 9:30 pm. The hike is done at a moderate pace, and is open to hikers 12 and over.
If evenings are difficult for you, consider checking out Orchard Hills during one of the regular morning hikes. Starting at the beginning of July, the Mid-Week Hike series, which takes place every Wednesday morning, added Orchard Hills to its regular rotation of locations. That early morning hike, which goes from 7 am to 12 pm, now visits the Orchard Hills loop trails on every third Wednesday. The next Morning Nature Hike in Orchard Hills will be on August, 5.
At any time of day, the seamless convergence of agriculture and protected open space makes Orchard Hills a great place to see active wildlife, which tends to treat the orchard as an extension of the wilderness beyond. Orderly rows of avocado trees quickly give way to natural chaparral and grasslands habitats. Hawks nest in the eucalyptus windrows that line the orchard, coyotes and deer eat fruit and take cover amongst the rows of avocado trees, and songbirds call to each other as they make nests and look for food in the orchard and beyond.
Please note that while programs have resumed in Orchard Hills, the new trailhead facility is not quite complete. As a result, all activities in Orchard Hills through the summer will begin and end at the nearby Native Seed Farm staging area. The new trailhead facility is slated to open sometime in the fall, and directions to the temporary staging area will be provided with online registration.
Click here to see a full list of upcoming activities in Orchard Hills. All of these activities are free and require pre-registration. Please wear comfortable clothing and closed-toed hiking shoes and bring plenty of water for the strenuous climb to the top of the upper loop trail. Participants should bring a flashlight for evening programs, preferably with a red tint. This allows participants’ eyes to stay adjusted to the dark night while still being able to see the trail in front of them. Visit www.LetsGoOutside.org/activities to learn more about any of the programs offered within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, and to register.