Wildflowers are starting to bloom; the sun is out a bit longer each night; and if you look up in the sky, you just might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of raptors courting – all sure signs Valentine’s Day is nearing in the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Rather than book a reservation at a crowded, overpriced restaurant to celebrate, surprise your loved one this year with an outdoor adventure.
Whether it’s a romantic night hike, an adventurous outing, or an excursion for the whole family, show the people who matter most to you one of the most special sights in Orange County by exploring the Landmarks together this Valentine’s Day. Read more below to see which activity is right for you.
Nothing says romance more than a gorgeous sunset, and some of the best views of Orange County are found on the Landmarks. Kick off the week with a moderately paced Orchard Hills Evening Hike on Monday, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m. This 3-mile hike along the City of Irvine’s Orchard Hills Loop rewards you with quality time outdoors and beautiful, unobstructed views toward the coast with your sweetheart.
On Thursday, Feb. 11, enjoy an evening fitness hike through stunning rock formations and fragrant native plants while letting the sounds of nature serenade you and your loved one. Slow-Paced Fitness Hike on Paved Hicks Haul Road is a 3.5-mile hike that can be done walking or running, and is along a paved road rather than dirt trail, making it an easier trek. Hike hand-in-hand while taking in the scenic views of Loma Ridge during this activity, which originates in the City of Irvine and travels into OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve.
Additional evening hikes are available Monday and Wednesday nights at After Work Fitness Hike on Paved Hicks Haul Road, led by Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteers on behalf of OC Parks.
If you and your better half seek fast-paced, energetic thrills, then start the romantic weekend early on Saturday, Feb. 13, at Limestone Ridge Extreme Cardio Hike. This fast-paced 8-mile hike is extremely challenging and includes a 1,100-foot elevation change – just think of all the heart-shaped chocolates you can eat guilt-free afterwards! Visitors will enjoy stunning, panoramic views of Orange County along the trails throughout OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon. You might even catch a glimpse of wildlife such as mule deer, red-tailed hawks or turkey vultures.
If you want to try cardio hikes but aren’t sure you’re ready, check out Intro Cardio Fitness: Extended Weir Canyon Rifle Range Loop on Saturday, Feb. 13. You’ll still break a sweat during this 6-mile hike through OC Parks’ Weir Canyon Nature Preserve, but you’ll enjoy a few more stops along the way. You and your date can take in views of Saddleback Peak and the Cleveland National Forest while chatting with highly trained Conservancy volunteers about the coastal sage scrub, native grasslands and oak woodlands you’ll pass while out on the trails.
You can still wine and dine your date at night and enjoy time outdoors if you hit the trails early in the morning Valentine’s Day. On Sunday, Feb. 14, embrace the day at Beginning Fitness Hike in Weir Canyon. This fitness-focused hike is done at a moderate pace over 5 miles, letting you ease into the day over mostly level trails and one steep hill. Additionally, you can explore OC Parks’ Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park during a 6.5-mile scenic outing Sunday, Feb. 14, during Double Loop Hike: Baker Canyon.
The hills aren’t just for hikers this Valentine’s Day! Mountain bikers can enjoy a docent-led ride beneath a canopy of coast live oaks ending at the viewing deck of The Sinks during Slow-Paced Mountain Bike Ride: Limestone Canyon, Sandtrap to The Sinks the morning of Sunday, Feb. 14. Designed for intermediate, physically fit riders who might need to move slower in more technical areas, this “hike-a-bike” ride is sure to make your Valentine’s Day one of the most adventurous yet.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to just be about duos – a variety of family-friendly programs out on the Landmarks are the perfect opportunity to grab a group and enjoy the outdoors together. Join an informative and energizing hike in OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon Saturday, Feb. 13, during Helping Nature to Keep Its Cool. Several stops along this 5.5-mile hike will allow visitors to learn about fire’s effect on the land, and see firsthand the progress of habitat restoration at sites in the canyon where community volunteers have removed weeds and planted native grasses.
Spend quality time with the whole family at Morning on the Mesa Loop Family Hike on Saturday, Feb. 13. Explore the newly opened Mesa Loop Trail in OC Parks’ Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park, where the only thing limiting your view will be the tall, healthy coastal sage scrub habitat. This 3-mile stroll, which is ideal for families and adults looking to hike outdoors at a slower pace, offers a big reward for little effort. Family Hike: Agua Chinon on Saturday, Feb. 13, is another group outing offering a slower-paced, gradual-climb hike. This easy-paced hike, which originates in the City of Irvine and travels into OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon, concludes just before sunset; whether part of a romantic outing or group excursion, visitors will enjoy a great view of the Landmarks during “the golden hour,” where the softer sunlight lends itself to picturesque moments.
Valentine’s Day weekend is also one of the few remaining times to check out “The Red That Colored the World” exhibit at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. Cochineal is a traditional, vibrant dye of pre-Columbian Mexico produced from an insect called the cochineal bug – found regularly in the Landmarks living on coastal prickly pear cactus. The exhibit follows the story of cochineal used in art from Mexico to Europe, to the U.S. and beyond, and highlights the unique international uses of the red color. For more information on “The Red That Colored the World,” which runs through Feb. 21, visit Bowers Museum online.
Romance not your thing? Celebrate Valentine’s Day by showing some love for the Landmarks instead! Volunteering your time to pull weeds and plant native shrubs and grasses benefits the natural resources of the Landmarks, in turn helping the local wildlife who call the area home. Join Conservancy staff on Thursday, Feb. 11, at the Dripping Springs Trail Restoration in OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon. Community volunteers are working hard to convert a ranch road into a single-track trail by planting and watering native seedlings and pulling weeds, which will create a clear path for future visitors and important habitat for wildlife. Your hard work will be rewarded with a trip out to Dripping Springs, a natural water source dripping down a gorgeous, fern-covered rock face.
To be a part of ongoing, long-term change, you can take part in Second Thursday Habitat Restoration in Newport Bay, which reoccurs the second Thursday of each month. Big Canyon Nature Park in the City of Newport Beach is a pivotal spot for dozens of species, including many endangered ones who make the large coastal wetland a stop during migratory season. Removing non-native, invasive weeds and planting native shrubs and grass will help these birds thrive.
You can also help care for West Loma in OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon at Adopt a Grassland – West Loma Stewardship on Saturday, Feb. 13. Volunteers will identify plants, remove weeds and plant native grasslands – a disappearing habitat home to many unique, endangered animals. Conservancy volunteers are on hand at all stewardship events, and all training, tools and gloves are provided. While no experience is required, some programs require hiking with tools, so plan accordingly.
There are a variety of activities on the Landmarks leading up to Valentine’s Day for you to celebrate with your loved ones in a memorable way. You can even show your love for the Landmarks itself by donating your time to stewardship programs that will help restore native habitat and help wildlife thrive. All programs are free with required pre-registration, which closes at 4 p.m. the day prior to the event. Minors must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. For more details on these activities or to register, click the titles above or visit LetsGoOutside.org/activities.