Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

Six Reasons to Visit O'Neill Park in Orange County, CA

Don Simkovich

Morning fog on the Vista Trail in O'Neill ParkDon Simkovich

O’Neill Park in Orange County is tucked away from suburban sprawl in the Trabuco and Live Oak Canyons. Here are reasons to plan a day trip or a camping trip to O’Neill Park, a 4,500-acre spread that’s east of Lake Forest, borders Rancho Santa Margarita, and stretches south to Los Flores.

1) You need a break from Los Angeles

Who doesn’t?

If you live in LA, glimpsing at the Hollywood sign or hiking in Griffith Park gets a bit too familiar. Trade crowded streets in Silverlake for welcoming oak trees and hiking trails.

O’Neill Park is less than a two-hour drive from the T-shirt and souvenir shops in Hollywood. You might even make it in 90 minutes when the traffic’s flowing well.

Look for both toll road and non-toll road options.

The gold in the Golden State--looking west above the campgroundDon Simkovich

2) You want to hike for the day

Southern California has dozens of wonderful places to hike. O’Neill Park has 23 miles of winding trails with a few that lead to Vista Point, a peak at 1,492 feet where it’s possible to spy Santa Catalina Island.

To reach the point, take Live Oak Trail that starts just inside the park entrance. An alternative is to park at the Eagle Cove Day Use area and hoof it up the Homestead Hoffman Trail to Vista Trail. They’re considered intermediate trails.

Watch for mountain bikers and horseback riders.

3) You like mountain biking

Rugged trails with bumpy straightaways and tight turns offer challenges and thrills for mountain bikers while paved roads offer relief.

Bikers descending down the Vista Trail.Don Simkovich

One biker wrote on a forum that, “The downhills are fun and depending which trails you put together can offer both fast fire road descents as well as some pretty hairy singletrack for you hardtails.”

Watch for hikers and horseback riders.

4) You like trees

Tie a hammock to the branches of a sturdy coast live oak tree or sycamore. Some of them are 150 years old. Volunteers planted trees in 2000 to celebrate the park’s natural life and abundance of trees and again in 2008 when five oaks were planted.

5) You want your kids to learn geography, animals, and natural history

What a great lesson for kids of any age whether they’re on site in a classroom or home schooling. Look on a map to show how the mountains are formed near the coast and add to the beauty and splendor of Southern California.

Look for nature’s residents like the Western Toad or Baja California Tree Frog. Salamanders and snakes also claim the park as home. Find a checklist on iNaturalist.org.

Visit, hike, and chart your progress. Talk about how the ridge was formed, how it affects the weather and the vegetation west of the 15 freeway.

6) You want to camp by yourself, a small group or large group

O’Neill Park has 78 individual sites in addition to group campsites that can handle a small group or large groups of a few dozen or more. Plenty of safe places for kids to run and play make it an attractive destination for scouting trips or church group outings.

Reconnect with friends or family. Plenty of restaurants and grocery stores are within a 20 minute drive so you can rough it on a trail and eat out or cook at your site.

The restrooms are clean and showers are inviting.

Park History

Hickey Creek and Trabuco are two streams flowing through the park in winter and spring and they’re usually dry by mid-summer.

In 1769, an expedition led by Gaspar de Portola camped in the area and a soldier lost his “trabuco” or musket in the stream. The stream was named Trabuco and the name for the canyon has remained.

O’Neill Park is open 7 a.m. to sunset throughout the year.

For campers, check-in is 2pm and check-out is noon.

Day use fees are $3 per vehicle entry Monday – Friday and $5 on weekends. There’s also a nature center.

Dogs and horses are welcome.

The park’s address is 30892 Trabuco Canyon Road
Trabuco Canyon, CA 92678.

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I interview entrepreneurs, and dig into the news around Southern California, giving a voice to business owners, artists and more. I also co-write the thriller novel series Tom Stone Detective Stories.

Pasadena, CA

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