Hidden on the eastern edge of Orange, CA, the El Modena Open Space is a natural getaway rich with volcanic formations, wildlife, and beautiful views. Its rugged trails and free growth, in contrast with all of the well-manicured parks in the area, have made it a favorite with locals looking for a quick but rewarding hike.
The official looped hiking trail that winds through the El Modena Open Space is short but mildly challenging. You’ll cover 2.4 miles with an elevation gain of 700 feet, with a few steep, rocky hills to climb and no shade. Plan on starting early in the day (especially in the summer) and bring plenty of water. There are no trail markers along the route and no official parking lot, which helps to maintain the space’s low profile and keep it from overcrowding. Since you will be parking in residential areas, make sure to be courteous to the locals, keeping your music down and not leaving trash behind.
There are multiple entrances to choose from so you can customize the hike to your strengths. Most people prefer to start at the trailhead on Patria Court, which gets the steepest inclines out of the way early in the hike (about a 450-foot climb in a half mile to the largest summit). The path along the ridge features some breathtaking 360-degree views of Orange County; on especially clear days, hikers will be able to see all the way west to Catalina Island, or north to the Hollywood sign.
After you come down from the ridge, the return path is the sidewalk leading up Cannon Street. If you’d rather continue your hike back in nature, two smaller trails on Cannon will lead back up to the ridge. These can also be taken down from the ridge to shorten the hike if you’re a little too tired after the initial climb, or can be used as your initial starting point if you decide to park on Cannon instead. A third entrance to the trail exists at the southernmost point of the trail, near the intersection of Cannon and E. Stillwater Avenue.
Many people bring their leashed dogs along with them on the hike. Be wary, however, of broken glass along the trail, which many hikers here have noted. The absence of garbage cans along the trail leads some inconsiderate visitors to abandon their trash mid-hike, but you can help to clean up by carrying others’ trash back to civilization in your own backpack!
The most unique natural features here are the volcanic rocks underfoot. Many colors of andesite and pyroclastic rock can be seen, a result of volcanic eruptions that took place in the Santa Ana mountains approximately 15 million years ago. This is the only hiking location in Orange County with these deposits.
Vegetation is plentiful in the El Modena Open Space. California sagebrush, hyacinth, prickly pear cactus, and coast cholla cactus line the edges of the trail. Rabbits and lizards are common, and snakes can occasionally be seen as well.
Because of the undeveloped nature of the space, remember that trashcans, restrooms, benches, and other standard amenities are not available. This is a beautifully preserved area and a haven for true nature lovers, respect it as such and you will enjoy your time here!
Shea Costales is an old-soul hippie with a passion for outdoor exploring. You can usually find her doing yoga in a local park, grubbing at the newest burger shack, or petting your dog.