This is the first in a series of articles where we discuss the many beautiful trails Irvine and the surrounding area have to offer.

As I got out of my car at Turtle Rock Community Park, one of the main access points for Shady Canyon Trail, I looked around and wondered where the actual trail was. It just seemed like suburban sidewalks at either end, and I started to get worried. I decided to take a breath and put my headphones on to shake my impatience and negativity. After all, how can a day go wrong when you have Young Thug as the soundtrack? 

With all that sorted, I went along the sidewalk that cuts into the trail, which extends to the north and south. I went for the southbound path because it seemed to cut through a more scenic section. For a time, as I sauntered along the dirt path, it seemed like I was correct. I admired the variety of trees and plants that decorate the sides, and the ducks swimming around in a large pond nearby put a big ol’ smile on my face. The sound of nearby cars, however, would often pull me from the headspace of a natural experience.

Upon checking my map, I discovered I was nearly at the end of the trail, rather than the beginning. Unperturbed, I headed back to explore the other 90 percent of the adventure waiting for me. 

(Ryan Najjar)

Like the section I had just walked, a dirt path lay in front of me for the northbound section. Trees and shrubbery decorate the left side, which are pleasant to glance at while walking along. To the right, though, cars pass along the road of their private community, which a small fence warns hikers to not trespass into. Thankfully, this image was soon replaced by tall and wide shrubbery as the trail diverges away from the road. Even though there were houses I could see along the top of a hill to the left, I still got the feeling I had been shielded from civilization. 

Now that I could stop thinking about cars, I could focus on the merits of the trail itself. Fortunately, there are many. 

As someone who isn’t the most athletically inclined, but still wants to keep himself in shape, I found this to be a prime balance of leisure and challenge. Flat sections made up a good amount of the trail at the start, and inclines begin to pop up within the second mile or so out of Turtle Rock. These inclines in turn have varying intensities, although there’s nothing that would leave an ordinary person out of breath. For those looking for an extra challenge during their daily run or bike ride, this is very much the place to be. 

The fourth wall of natural serenity breaks from time to time as the trail merges closer to the road. This, however, doesn’t bother me too much for a couple of reasons. For one, the community itself is quite calm, and there aren’t many noises emerging from it that take me out of my focus (besides the occasional car). Secondly, I figured people in this area didn’t have time to go all the way down to Turtle Rock to start their hike or bike ride. Therefore, multiple entry points could be considered more of a blessing than a curse. 

Breaking away from the suburb again, the trail took me along a wooden bridge, the sort of structure I have a soft spot for. After passing along this, I was given a view of a golf course, not my favorite view on the hike.

As the trail began to dip and rise, the golf course was graciously removed from my line of sight and replaced with more beautiful rolling hills, showing off more green than you’d expect to see in December. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to make each of the many plant varieties stand out in a special way. As far as what types of plants these were, you’ll have to consult Botany Weekly, our sister publication that doesn’t exist (but honestly should). 

(Ryan Najjar)

The surprises continued as I began to hear the calls of at least three different types of birds ring through the air. “Well it’s way too cold for these little guys to be out,” I thought, “so they must have really wanted to say hi to me!” My Snow White fantasy was dimmed, however, when I remembered that 60 degrees is only considered cold if you’re from…well…here. Regardless, knowing the variety of life that graced this trail enhanced it in my eyes. 

It wasn’t just wildlife or plant life, either! Every human and adorable dog that passed by me was an absolute pleasure, and the few words I exchanged with them were filled with warmth. Whether they were taking a peaceful stroll, doing some nature-watching, or getting their workout in, people wanted to be on the Shady Canyon Trail for all sorts of reasons. 

After this experience, you can bet I count myself amongst them. Offering plenty to novice hikers and non-athletes, while throwing in more than enough challenges for intensity-seekers, there’s something for everyone here. Also, if you’re coming in from the north end and looking for more of a workout, you can swing right back into Turtle Rock Community Park and enjoy their fields and courts before hitting the trail’s southern tip.