Lets face it, Orange County is crowded. Some days it seems like an endless expanse of people, cars, houses, and shopping centers. When I start to feel suffocated by the masses so I like to take a drive. I head to the ocean where I can look out and see nothing but blue. It calms my soul and it renews my energy. Other times I need something different. I crave a place full of wildlife, trees, and rugged wilderness. Looking at what surrounds me, I wouldn't think I could find a place like this within fifteen minutes of my house. But I can. That place is O'Neill Regional Park.
O'Neill is back in Trabuco Canyon, just east of Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, and Rancho Santa Margarita. It is so close to that endless sea of humanity yet feels like it is miles away. Its Orange County as it used to be. Before their were shopping centers and subdivisions there were ranchos filled with oak trees, chaparral, cactus and rocky canyons carved out by seasonal streams. O'Neill is a wonderful reminder of the Orange County of the past. There is plenty of room to hike, camp, and enjoy the great outdoors.
It is also a great place to take the kids to the playground! O'Neill has a wonderful play area and nature center (open on weekends) just within park boundaries. I love this playground because not only is it surrounded by the beauty of nature, it also educates children about animal tracks, Orange County ranchos and landmarks, animals, and how to tell time using the sun by placing the information directly into the design of the play structures.
Adjacent to the play area is the Tot's Trail. Its a short loop in a grove of oak trees with information plaques on the local wildlife dispersed throughout the trail. Little ones can learn to identify different animals and older kids can learn some fun facts.
The kids and I wandered down the creek bed that runs through the park and enjoyed the scenery. There is a campground nearby that looks like the perfect spot for us to do a camping test run before we take an overnight trip someplace that isn't a quick drive to the comforts of home if disaster strikes.
Our final stop was the Mesa Overlook area. It is a lovely spot to have a picnic and take in the views.
This park is full of hiking trails for us to conquer in the coming weeks. I look forward to finding refuge here often. O'Neill Park, may you prove to be island of paradise in a sea of suburbia
For more information on this park check out Fun Orange County Parks!