OC Parks offers a can’t-miss experience with their guided equestrian ride through Weir Canyon Nature Preserve. If there’s anything better than hiking trails flanked by beautiful greenery and stunning sheets of rolling hills, it’s getting to enjoy the beauty of a nature hike while sitting pretty on the saddle of your horse. If you’ve never soaked up the refreshing air of a preserved habitat while looking out over beautiful and full views of this incredible place we call home, then you’ve never really lived.
Nestled below the Santa Ana mountains in the Anaheim Hills, Weir Canyon is part of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, which is a National Natural Landmark. The Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks is actually the first-ever California Natural Landmark! Less than 600 sites have received the National Natural Landmark designation, so we are very fortunate to have this gem so close to us!
Weir Canyon is also part of the northern limit of the 22-mile Mountains to Sea Trail, which expands from Weir Canyon to Upper Newport Bay. Weir Canyon’s diverse geology, expansive hillsides, and abundance of greenery create an ambiance that evokes the feeling that you’re in a remote nature wonderland, far away from the busy exuberance of our everyday, urban world. In reality, this park is only a few minutes from the nearest suburban neighborhood of Anaheim Hills. It’s basically a remote getaway virtually right in your backyard.
The canyon is home to rolling hills draped in chaparral greenery and stunning, theatrical cliff sides. There’s no permit required to access Weir Canyon and enjoyment is free of charge and plentiful. However, while it is free of charge, access to Weir Canyon is available through guided activities only because it is a protected nature preserve. So anyone interested in exploring the trails of Weir Canyon should register on letsgooutside.org/activities. The trails of Weir Canyon Nature Preserve are great for hiking, dog-walking, mountain biking and general outdoor adventure, but imagine experiencing the beauty of the canyon from on top of your horse!
On the Trail
OC Parks gives you that exact opportunity with their equestrian trail ride that is a guided tour of the canyon and weaves its way through the scenic oak woodland. Did you know that Weir Canyon actually holds one of the biggest and healthiest oak woodlands in Orange County?
While on the trail ride, you can expect to see a large amount of wildlife from both the flora and fauna families. Animal wildlife sightings from the Weir Canyon equestrian ride may include deer, coyotes, many different birds and even bobcats. Can you imagine riding through this beautiful wilderness preserve and spotting the perked ears of a wary doe with her young or the curious stance of a bobcat off in the distance? That’s something you don’t get to experience every day! However, the easily frightened need not be intimidated by these possibilities as this ride is completely guided and has a number of available spaces for riders, so you’ll never feel alone or unprepared.
The trails that the equestrian ride follows are wide and easily navigated from on top of your horse. There are even several easy to moderate climbs throughout the ride so equestrians that are used to more challenging adventures won’t be left wanting more out of these recreational trails, which is not to say that you could possibly dream of needing more from the lush landscape and amazing views.
The guided tour travels along the route of Butterfield Stage. Not only is the scenery stunning, but this route is also loaded with history. The Butterfield Stage route was once surrounded by farmers and traversed by passengers who were subjects of harassment from notorious outlaw bandits of the late 1800s. Infamous names like Joaquin Murrieta and Three Fingered Jack still linger through the oak-lined ravines of Weir Canyon. While these trails are no longer terrorized by history book outlaws, this equestrian ride allows its participants to still enjoy the interesting history of its environment.
The guided tour will bring riders to a monument dedicated to the Mexican ox cart drivers that once traveled through the rolling hills of this very same canyon.
Two Tower Vista Point
If there is enough time before heading back home at the end the journey, the equestrian ride tour will climb to the Two Tower vista point. The Two Tower vista point offers distant and expansive views of the land surrounding Weir Canyon. On the clearest days, riders might even catch the beautiful blue sweep of our beloved Pacific Ocean off in the distance.
The good news is, this equestrian ride through Weir Canyon is recurring, so if your tour doesn’t have enough time to climb to the Two Tower vista point and witness its breathtaking views this time, you can always keep coming back. However, this guided tour offers some of the most amazing views of the natural green hills and surrounding cliff sides throughout the whole journey, whether or not your tour is able to make it to the Two Tower vista point. So be prepared for picturesque overload either way!
What You Need
There are a few requirements for equestrians that are interested in experiencing the excitement and adventure of this trail ride.
- First, all potential riders must be 18 years or older to sign up for this particular event.
- Riders must have their own horse that is fit and able to navigate the wide trails and occasional moderate climbs of this trek.
- Riders are also asked to provide their own transportation to the event’s staging area for their horse and themselves before the hike.
- And finally, OC Parks asks that anyone interested in the equestrian ride through Weir Canyon have previous trail riding experience.
This way you can fully enjoy the whole experience without worrying about not being able to easily and naturally encourage your horse through the trails with the other riders.
This particular equestrian ride travels five miles altogether and lasts about three hours. The event is rated a level three for difficulty on a one through five scale. The OC Parks events difficulty rating scale is based on a variety of factors including the distance of a hike, average pace, estimated stops along the way, accumulated elevation throughout the hike, steepness of climbs and the hike’s general trail surface.
This experience is pretty moderate based off of this difficulty scale. You shouldn’t expect to go faster than three and a half miles per hour and the trails are made up of natural surfaces for the most part. However, the equestrian tour may travel over a few gravel trails, so owners of unshod horses should be wary and prepare for the terrain. The elevation gain is pretty moderate as well as it will not exceed 1000 feet, so don’t be intimidated by the event’s difficulty rating.
This equestrian ride is completely and easily manageable and is definitely an experience you won’t want to miss. More information about the difficulty rating of the “Equestrian Ride: Discover the Natural Wonders of Weir Canyon” event, as well as more information about the OC Parks events difficulty scale in general, can be found on letsgooutside.org.
This guided equestrian tour requires its participants to register in advance and the event is free with pre-registration. You can search through upcoming events and register for, Equestrian Ride: Discover the Natural Wonders of Weir Canyon, on letsgooutside.org/activities. The number of spaces available for the event is updated with each registration and listed next to the event’s description.
Additional Trail Adventures
A variety of other equestrian programs organized by OC Parks in Weir Canyon Nature Preserve offers an exciting and enjoyable journey through the canyon with stunning views of Orange County’s most brilliant oak woodland and chaparral-covered hills. The opportunity to witness so many different types of wildlife in a preserved nature habitat from the comfort of your horse’s saddle is definitely a bucket-list type of experience.
One of these equestrian programs is the Manes and Tails in Weir Canyon trail ride. This event is also a guided equestrian tour through Weir Canyon Nature Preserve. The minimum age for this trail ride is 14-years-old, so younger riders who meet the age requirement are invited to enjoy the event. It is also free to participate with required pre-registration.
Just as with the previous trail ride mentioned, equestrians must have their own fit and able horse as well as provide their own transportation for their horse and themselves to the staging area. Even the younger riders should have prior trail riding experience and are encouraged to review the difficulty rating scale on the letsgooutside.org website before signing up for this event.
OC Parks has a variety of equestrian programs for many different people, but all are definitely worth looking into. Learn more about and register for upcoming guided equestrian activities in Weir Canyon by clicking here. All guided programs on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are free with required pre-registration, and all minors must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Photography courtesy of Irvine Ranch Conservancy.