Distance: 3.9 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 890' (high point in canyon)
Elevation Gain: 360'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.28
Round trip time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Recommended water: 20 oz.
Parking/Fees: $5 California State Parks
Pulling another page out of the Jerry Schad book on Orange County, I headed to Chino Hills State Park for a casual hike up Water Canyon. I parked at a turnout on Bane Canyon Road on the west side of the park. I headed south on the Aliso Canyon Trail 0.7 miles to the junction with the Water Canyon Trail. There were several hikers and mountain bikers on the main trail, but I was alone in Water Canyon. Not far from the start, a wooden foot bridge crosses to the right side where the trail stayed most of the time. It started out with some light bushwhacking, mostly soft grass and plants. In the beginning, I kept a full stride through the growth. Maybe 10% of them were plants with some kind of thorny bulbs, but they were also soft and easily brushed aside. Poison oak was abundant in the canyon proper, but not a threat above the banks.
Less than a mile up the canyon, I stopped when I heard some loud crashing. At least two large animals were slowly and clumsily plowing through the brittle brush in my direction. My first thought was a pair of hikers bushwhacking their way back from the dark heart of the canyon. I thought about shouting to them, but waited instead. Deer? Deer didn't move that loudly with so little regard for making noise. I unpacked my hunting knife and clipped it to my belt, then stood still looking intently for whatever it was to make an appearance. After a couple of minutes, I decided to head down into the canyon to see what was what. My own noise started a stampede of large animals back into the canyon. A straggler stopped for a second to glance at me before joining the herd upstream. I recognized the large orange and white head of a bovine. What were cows doing this deep into the park in a wild section of Water Canyon? When I got back, research revealed that a herd of feral cows has been menacing Chino Hills State Park for years. Who knew? I didn't get a good picture of the herd, but can confirm they are still thriving. I continued on my way as the cows exited somewhere on the other side.
The trail grew increasingly overgrown and the ratio of thorny plants to grass increased to 50%. I was looking for a use trail leading out of the canyon, but didn't find one. From the satellite view, the use trail I was looking for might have been less than a thousand feet ahead.