Distance: 4.5 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 1653'
Elevation Gain: 1000' (550' out, 450' on return)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.80
Round trip time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Concourse Park
Dreaded Hill is the high point in Limestone Canyon and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County. It sounds much worse than it is. The trails I followed started at Concourse Park. To get there, head east on El Toro Road from the I-5 and make a left on Ridgeline Road, the last light before Cook's Corner, then left on Saddleback Ranch Road. Parking is free in the parking lot and there is a nice, clean restroom at the park.
There is a maze of trails in the park and your best bet is to get a map or print one from the OC Parks web site. I followed a counter clockwise loop on various trails in this order:
Sleepy Hollow Trail
Santiago Ranch Road
Cactus Hill Trail to 4 Corners
Water Tank Trail
Dreaded Hill Road to summit and down other side
Serrano Cow Trail
Line Shack Road
The Cactus Hill Trail in Whiting Ranch is somewhat infamous as the site of two mountain lion attacks in 2004, one fatal. There were at least two lions in the park at the time, one male (the confirmed attacker) that was shot, and a female that was run over by a car on a nearby road. Another 100 pound male mountain lion was captured in July, 2012 in the park after exhibiting what park rangers called unusual behavior.
The trails are optimized for mountain bikers and may explain why I saw a 10:1 ratio of bikers to hikers. Everything is groomed and smooth. The Serrano Cow Trail was well shaded, but that and parts of Sleepy Hollow were the only areas with tree coverage. I saw plenty of wildlife including a road runner and 3 deer. I wasn't able to photograph the road runner before he got away. I never got the feeling I was in the wilderness with houses in view from almost every part of the trip. It's hard to believe this is a home to mountain lions.
Dreaded Hill from the start of the hike.
Three deer grazing through the trees. Lion food!
Red Rock Canyon from Dreaded Hill summit.
The elevation profile makes it look like there is a steep climb at the start, but there isn't. When I turned on my GPS, I had already gone down a hill in the wrong direction so it shows me climbing back up to the right trail then down again. I didn't count that in the elevation gain. To get a longer sustained workout, a clockwise assault on dreaded hill would have been better. There is bench on the trail near the top of Dreaded Hill, but the true summit requires a few more feet of climbing via faint use trail.
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