Beyond its beaches, Orange County often doesn't get the recognition it deserves when it comes to the outdoors. Don't let that stop you from exploring the interior, though, it's a treasure trove of open space--after all, nearly 40,000 acres are part of a National Natural Landmark, as well as a California one.
One area becoming increasingly popular is the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Area, an OC Parks property managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (Facebook). Located in the Santa Ana Mountains east of Irvine, the land, which includes the geologically spectacular "mini Grand Canyon," or "the Sinks," is one of a handful of Orange County parks not open to the public on a daily basis to ensure preservation of the biologically rich area.
One way to access the land is via scheduled activities throughout each month. Think group cardio and fitness hikes, trail runs, yoga and mountain bike rides. Then once a month is the park's big day where hikers and cyclists can access the area for six hours of self-guided exploring. Those days, dubbed Wilderness Access Days, require day use passes, which can be obtained by registering online or in-person.
For Saturday, May 7th between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., the online reservations are nearly sold out, but rangers will take walk-up visitors for on-site registration. The next Wilderness Access Day will be June 4th, when a new trail will open. The conservancy's website warns that there may be some trail closures and that inclement weather will cancel the event.
While there, keep an eye out for wildflowers. Park rangers all over the county maintain a wildflower blog for bloom updates and spots to check out.