Trail Review: Whiting Ranch, Lake Forest, California

This is my trail. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My trail is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My trail, without me, is useless. Without my trail, I am useless. I must ride my trail true.

Tribute to Rifleman’s Creed

There’s something about your local trail that’s easily forgotten. It’s that trail you ride because it’s convenient, when you only have an hour to ride before work, or if you don’t quite feel up for that other trail because maybe you’ve had a few too many beers last night (I did actually). Your local trail never stands out in your mind because to you it’s nothing special anymore. But it’s easy to forget why your local trail is one of your favorites. Sometimes it helps to take a second and look around.


My trail is Whiting Ranch. The trailhead is five minutes from my front door and I can do the full 7-mile loop in under an hour if I don’t stop to rest (yeah, right). My trail is one of the most scenic trails in Orange County and I usually manage to ride it twice a week. Twice a week I get to enjoy the beautiful flowy singletrack that is my reward after climbing (walking) Mustard Hill. Twice a week I get a chance to see wildlife that most people don’t even realize is right here in our own backyard, and twice a week I get to put everything else out of my mind and enjoy the uninterrupted bliss that only comes when riding a trail you know inside and out.

The best part of my trail is that almost anyone can ride it. The strongest climbers and the most advanced downhill riders enjoy this as a training ride, and your average Joe Mountain Biker can come here to build and improve his skills. In fact, this trail is probably the one that’s taught me the most about riding. There’s nothing here that will ruin your day if you take the wrong line, and you can always make things more challenging by going faster.


The first half of the ride is punctuated with short climbs that will keep your attention, some rocks and tree roots here and there, and a sand section that becomes a real challenge mid-summer when it hasn’t rained for a while. Seasoned riders will enjoy the “extra credit” sections that can add distance and elevation to this loop, but most of us will be happy enough to make it to the top of “Mustard Hill” without crumbling to the ground gasping for oxygen and cursing the last 6 months of microwave burritos and Netflix marathons. To really prove yourself, Dread Hill is a climb that will push almost anyone to their limits.

The downhill can be ridden a few different ways with varying difficulty, but all routes basically connect to the same fire road. One of my favorite sections called “Cactus” has an optional launch at the top if you’re feeling brave, and flows into some choppy banked turns and switchbacks. As you continue down you will find yourself surrounded by oak trees and, after learning the trail, you can really fly through the twisty singletrack. If you slow down and look at any point in the forest you’re likely to see deer or coyote, and if you’re lucky you may come across a bobcat. Mountain lion sightings are reported here a few times a year and though I’ve never seen one, I always carry mace so that if I do, I can spray anyone I’m riding with and ride away.

Whiting, like most local trails, will never be the epic all-day ride that you talk about with your friends for years to come. Just like your local trail, though, it holds a special place on my list. Even if my trail doesn’t give me the biggest adrenaline rush or the most leg-burning workout, it wins hands-down for the number of smiles it has put on my face.


Zack Gaskins is an advanced mountain biker who sometimes confuses the word “advanced” with the word “average.” His hobbies include happy hour, pretending he’s fixing things when he’s actually making them worse, and Sudoku. Originally from Orange County California, he still lives there. His steed is a white Santa Cruz Heckler with a budget build. His helmet was 60% off on Chainlove.

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