Everyone knows that Northern California is the place to go to see groves of giant redwoods, but few people know that you can get a taste of the redwoods in Southern California. Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea has a 10-acre grove of coastal redwoods, the largest grove of these trees in Southern California. Even through the could-be giants are relatively young and not really suited for the climate in Orange County, the 2.5-mile round trip hike to the redwood grove is a small treat for SoCal residents who can’t make it to the north end of the state.
From a parking area at the east end of Carbon Canyon Regional Park, walk southeast for less than a tenth of a mile to the trailhead kiosk for Carbon Canyon Nature Trail. Set out on the dirt single track, which crosses the seasonal (and often dry) Carbon Canyon Creek, beginning a level and leisurely course to the redwood grove. The trail is lined by California walnut trees that (unlike the redwoods) are native to this region and thrive in the riparian area along the creek. As the trail progresses south along the creek, you will pass several signs describing the birds that frequent Carbon Canyon Regional Park and may nest in the walnut trees, like California quail, California towhees, black phoebes, western bluebirds, and America robins.
The trail passes a bench just before a junction that is 3/4 of a mile from the start. The trail to the right crosses Carbon Canyon Creek toward an alternate trailhead on the west side of the park (more on that later). For now, stay straight on Carbon Canyon Nature Trail, following the reassuring signs that point toward the redwood grove.
After another 0.2 miles, stay to the left through a junction with a dirt service road that breaks off to the right toward the Carbon Canyon Dam. This route can be used to create a short loop on the return from the redwood grove. Continuing to the left via the main trail, it is another 0.15 miles to the edge of the redwood grove.
As you near the grove, the Carbon Canyon Dam comes into view. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the dam in 1961, and afterward the land below the flood-control dam was leased to Orange County, allowing for the creation of Carbon Canyon Regional Park in 1975, the same year that the redwood grove was planted.
About 1.1 miles from the start, the trail arrives at the seemingly small redwood grove, which is actually Southern California’s largest grove of coastal redwoods. Though coastal redwoods can live to be over 2,000 years old, the planted 10-acre grove in Carbon Canyon Regional Park is only a few decades old. Additionally, Orange County does not offer an ideal climate for the world’s tallest trees to grow as enormous as they can in Northern California. While coastal redwoods can grow to be over 300 feet tall with a diameter of over twenty feet, these redwoods are less than a hundred feet tall and look rail-thin compared to their impressive cousins to the north. Unless you want to drive up to Monterey County (the south end of the coastal redwoods natural habitat) these smaller redwoods will have to do.
The trail circles the redwood grove past several benches that can be used to take a break beneath the tranquil trees. There are over 200 Sequoia Sempervirens (coastal redwoods) standing in this grove that survive thanks to frequent watering designed to mimic the cool, wet conditions that they enjoy in their natural environment. Instead of a lush understory of sword ferns, wood sorrel, and abundant fallen needles, like you would find in a natural redwood grove, the ground is covered in mulch, making it easy for you to walk off trails and around all of the trees.
After circling the grove, you may return the way you came or loop back through the park. To make a small loop past the dam, circle around the grove, following a road of concrete (which turns to dirt once you leave the grove, heading west toward Carbon Canyon Dam. The dirt road dips south and passes close to the tall gravel bank of the dam before returning to the main trail after less than half a mile.
There is also another shorter route to the grove that can be used as a variation of this hike or to create a loop. The main trailhead is found at the east end of Carbon Canyon Regional Park, but there is another trailhead on the west side of the park that is actually closer to the grove. From this second trailhead near the fishing pond, there is a dirt trail that heads south across Carbon Canyon Creek, connecting to Canyon Nature Trail at the junction half a mile from the end of the trail at the back of the grove. This route can be used to for a shorter 1 1/3-mile out and back hike, or to create a 2.25-mile loop incorporating a paved walking trail through the park that connects the two trailheads.
Hiking out and back on Carbon Canyon Nature Trail will give you a 2.5-mile round trip hike with 75 feet of elevation gain. Carbon Canyon Regional Park covers 124 acres and has abundance of amenities. There are picnic pavilions, tennis courts, volleyball courts, playgrounds, a fishing pond, paved biking and walking trails, and ball fields. Carbon Canyon Regional Park borders the much larger Chino Hills State Park, which preserves 13,000 acres that include several hiking trails. No permit is required to hike Carbon Canyon Nature Trail to the redwood grove, but there is an entrance fee for Carbon Canyon Regional Park ($3 weekdays / $5 weekends). Dogs are welcome in Carbon Canyon Regional Park, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Route 57, take exit 10 onto Lambert Road. Drive east for two miles until Lambert Road becomes Carbon Canyon Road. Proceed 0.6 miles and turn right into the main entrance for Carbon Canyon Regional Park. Inside the park, turn left when you come to an intersection and drive half a mile east to the last parking lot at the end of the road (which runs parallel to Carbon Canyon Road). The trail begins from the southeast corner of the lot.
Trailhead address: 4442 Carbon Canyon Road, Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Brea, CA 92823
Trailhead coordinates: 33.920923, -117.82935 (33° 55′ 15.32″N 117° 49′ 45.66″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Southern California trails and campgrounds.
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