A stunning expanse of open space southeast of Irvine Lake is now open for public enjoyment. Red Rock Wilderness offers over 8 miles of new trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Situated atop the 20- to 40-million-year-old Sespe formation, the nature preserve was once home to early rhinos and crocodiles that roamed the area. The red rocks developed their striking color and jagged appearance over time as the sediment oxidized and eroded, along with the gradual uplift of the Santa Ana Mountains.

The area offers a protected and preserved natural habitat for a variety of plants and animals, including bobcats, mule deer, grey fox and a variety of bird species. Colorful California poppies, lupine and other wildflowers are on display during the spring months, while coast live oaks, prickly pear cactus, coastal sage scrub and native grasses are visible year-round.

“This is true wilderness,” Donald P. Wagner, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said at the recent ribbon-cutting event. “Once you get out there, there’s rarely people around, certainly not crowds. You hear birds. You see wildlife. And yet, you are only 15 minutes away from home. So this is an oasis, a refuge.”

Red Rock Wilderness stands as a testament to the collaborative efforts aimed at preserving the natural landscapes of Orange County for future generations. Irvine Company donated the land to the County of Orange in 2014 as part of its efforts to preserve nature in Orange Heights.

“Irvine Company has been very generous in donating to us,” Wagner said. “What it allows us to do is provide all of these opportunities for people to get into the wilderness and reconnect with family and neighbors and friends, see a slice of the land as it used to be. The mental health benefits of getting away from it all can’t be overstated. It’s a very generous grant, and it pays dividends for the people.”

“You hear birds. You see wildlife. And yet, you are only 15 minutes away from home. So this is an oasis, a refuge.”

OC Supervisor Donald P. Wagner

The original vision for Orange Heights, approved by the city of Orange, was to build 12,300 new homes on 7,000 acres in east Orange, extending from Jamboree and Santiago Canyon roads to Irvine Lake. But the Company decided to preserve more than 90% of the land and donate it to the county, establishing a vast, interconnected network of open space east of the 241.

“It is wonderful to join with the community in celebrating the opening of these new recreational trails that traverse some of the most beautiful lands of The Irvine Ranch, donated for permanent preservation by Irvine Company as part of our Orange Heights master planning,” Irvine Company Senior Vice President Jeff Davis said.

Red Rock Wilderness is accessible through scheduled guided and self-guided programs with advance registration. Visit letsgooutside.org for more information.