The Cal State Fullerton campus, as seen from Panorama Nature Preserve in the Coyote Hills of Fullerton, California.

A visual guide to the Cal State Fullerton campus as seen from Panorama Nature Preserve. Photo by Daniel Coats ’15,’18

Fullerton and surrounding communities may seem like endless miles of suburban sprawl, but they also have some unique opportunities to explore the Southern California natural environment with hiking destinations.

From cool redwood groves to panoramic views of Cal State Fullerton and beyond, there’s no shortage of things to see (and take photos of) on these nearby wilderness sojourns. They are great for a peaceful afternoon or weekend trip, a date, or memorable time with friends and family.

Here are five of the most accessible destinations within a half hour drive from campus. But don’t forget – if you only have a lunch break or a few hours between classes, there’s always the diverse ecosystems of the Fullerton Arboretum waiting for you to explore.

  1. The Coyote Hills

The hills visible from the Cal State Fullerton athletics fields or Downtown Fullerton are the Coyote Hills, which offer panoramic views of campus, Orange County, the San Gabriel Mountains and even Downtown L.A. on a clear day. A hike in these hills can be as long or as short as desired, with a 2.8-mile route focusing on the eastern side of the hills (where Cal State Fullerton is most easily visible).

Taking Nutwood Avenue west of campus, then turning right on Acacia Avenue north to the top of the hill provides the closest approach to the best campus views (park on the street and walk up the hill to join the trail).

In addition to the dramatic views, you’ll see operating oil rigs (a reminder that North O.C. is oil producing country – the name of the city of Brea even means “oil” or “tar” in Spanish) and golfers at the Coyote Hills Golf Course.

Ground zero to explore the western half of the Coyote Hills (which rise behind Downtown Fullerton) is the Fullerton Sports Complex off Bastanchury Road and Silver Pine Street. At the back end of the park, Lost Trail and Coyote Hills Ranch Trail begin, which are the gateway to a number of routes, from easy to strenuous.

Less than 10 minutes from the trailhead, one must-see is Coyote Hills Ranch, where horses that provide therapeutic riding therapy for North O.C.’s special needs residents can be seen. There are also more than 28 miles of equestrian trails in this area, so it’s a great place if you’re a horse owner (or just like horse watching).

There are so many trails, be sure to memorize familiar landmarks to avoid getting lost. And as some of these routes are a bit remote, it would be best to take the hikes with at least one other person.

The trail through the Carbon Canyon Redwoods at Carbon Canyon Regional Park in North Orange County, California.

The view while hiking through Carbon Canyon Regional Park. Photo from AllTrails

  1. Carbon Canyon Redwoods

You don’t have to drive 700+ miles to Northern California and Oregon to experience the lush beauty and cool temperatures of a coastal redwood grove. At Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea, a 2.5-mile round trip hike provides easy access to a 10-acre grove that was planted in 1975. While still less than 100 feet tall, the trees are a striking contrast to the surrounding dry chaparral and offer a great spot for photos.

The trailhead begins in the regional park, which is a great place for a picnic amidst small lakes.

Open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. during standard time in winter and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during daylight time in summer, there is a parking fee of $3 on weekdays and $5 on weekends.

While the redwood trail is moderately trafficked, be careful, as wild canines have been observed here (the author encountered one in August 2015).

  1. Chino Hills State Park

Accessible from Brea, Yorba Linda and Chino Hills, the 14,102-acre open space area, which forms the border area between Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, offers no shortage of hiking and even wilderness camping opportunities, with options for all skill levels. The park is particularly beautiful in spring, when winter rains bring lush vegetation and wildflowers.

There are two main access points to this wilderness area: at the Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center at 4500 Carbon Canyon Road and through Bane Canyon Road in Chino Hills. Except for campgrounds, the park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to March and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from April to September. There is a $5 day use fee.

Knowledgeable rangers are available at either of the two main entrances to provide maps and advice on the best individualized experience – whether you are a weekend warrior, history buff, photography aficionado, equestrian, or serious hiker or backpacker, there is something here for every taste.

But be advised that this is true wilderness: Coyotes run rampant, snakes are common and many routes are miles away from the nearest civilization. Plus, this is former cattle ranching land and herds of cattle can still be seen – along with an occasional stray!

A view of the San Gabriel Mountains and Cajon Pass from Chino Hills State Park in Southern California.

Views from the Bane Canyon entrance of Chino Hills State Park. Photo by Daniel Coats ’15, ’18

  1. Powder Canyon

The Puente Hills, which form the border between Orange County and Los Angeles counties in La Habra, offer a number of hiking opportunities, including Powder Canyon, a 4.8-mile round-trip moderate route. Anticipate spending at least 2.5 hours on this hike, which is accessible from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June 1 to Sept. 30 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.

From a trailhead on Fullerton Road in La Habra Heights, the well-marked dirt trail passes through open grassland and stands of native oaks, as well as dramatic views of the San Gabriel Valley and mountains.

Connecting with Schabarum Regional Park, the trail offers access to a large equestrian complex and picnic areas.  Great for horse viewing!

  1. Steep Canyon

Taking the 57 Freeway north to Diamond Bar results in dramatic mountain views – and access to the Steep Canyon Loop off Diamond Bar Blvd. on Steep Canyon Drive. This 1.8-mile hike only takes about an hour, though it is relatively strenuous with the sharp elevation gain, including a steep staircase that transports hikers up the hill.

After climbing about 100 steps, a single track trail leads to a full panorama of views, including the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains to the east, the San Gabriel Mountains to the north and the Los Angeles metro to the west.

Relatively shaded in many spots, this route, open all daylight hours, is doable even on many summer days, and certainly is delightful at cooler times of year.

By the way…Ever wondered how the city of Diamond Bar got its name? You’ll find out on this trail, where an informational plaque explains how 19th century ranchers used a diamond over a horizontal bar as a cattle branding symbol.