Distance: 9 miles round trip on road and trail
Summit Elevation: 1041' (Top of the World)
Elevation Gain: 1091' (out and back)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.87
Round trip time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: $3 OC Parks
The Aliso and Wood Canyon Park is in my back yard, two miles from my house, and I know every nook and cranny. The hills were a good training ground for me before I graduated to bigger things. There are many interconnected trails, but most are well signed, and maps and directions are available online at the OC Parks site. The Park is very popular on weekends with mountain bikers and the trails are ideal for biking. If you plan to hike there on the weekend, expect lots of bike traffic.
From the trailhead, there is a monotonous 1.5 mile section of flat, paved road. At about the half mile mark, there is a dirt trail on the right that parallels the road and is more pleasant to travel on than the pavement. This 1.5 mile section is quickly and easily dispatched on a bike, but is a drag for hikers who have to deal with it out and back. To save time, I jogged most of the road section and was pleased with my 3.6 mph average over the entire 9 mile course.
There are a few attractions to see after leaving the road and heading into Wood Canyon. The first is a short signed trail leading to Cave Rock, a large formation with multiple small and shallow caves. It returns to the main trail in about a quarter mile. A little further is a signed trail leading to Dripping Cave, a former hideout for bandits. Dripping Cave is large enough for a group of people but is still shallow, no more than 20' deep. From Dripping Cave, I continued on until it intersected the Mathis Canyon Trail, then took an immediate left on the Oak Grove Trail. Oak Grove offers some shade and turns into the Car Wreck Trail, which has an actual wrecked car on it, a good mile from the nearest road. I still don't know how the car got this far down into the canyon.
After passing the car, the Car Wreck Trail gets steep and all of the elevation gain comes in the next 1.5 miles. Follow Car Wreck Trail until it hits the Mathis Canyon Trail, then make a left to the junction with the West Ridge Trail and left again all the way to the Top of the World in Laguna Beach. At the Top of the World, there is a park, nice restroom facilities, a great view of the Pacific Ocean and the City of Laguna Beach. The high point is actually Carolyn Wood Knoll about a 100 feet off to the right. On a clear day, you have a great view of Saddleback Mountain, but today was pretty hazy and it was hard to make out either Saddleback or the ocean. On my return trip, I stayed on the Mathis Canyon Trail.
I almost classified this hike as easy, but the distance was a little much and all the elevation comes in about 1.5 miles after the car wreck. A family friendly hike could be done by turning around at Dripping Cave or the car wreck and bypassing all of the elevation gain.