After Owen’s recent hospitalization at a veterinary hospital for pneumonia, we’ve been taking it easier when it comes to outdoor activity. It’s been about a month since he came home, and while he’s maintained his puppy-like sweet and playful spirit, his body is definitely slowing down. He is still quite active, and following a fun afternoon at the Leo Carillo Dog Beach the day prior, he and I both were still up for another adventure this past Sunday. I was hoping to catch the last of the late spring wildflowers at a park with some drivability so that Owen could hike in short stints. Chino Hills State Park answered both, but with some caveats.
Chino Hills State Park is a beautiful open space with rolling hills and over 90 miles of trails that can be biked, hiked, or explored on horseback. It is a state-maintained park within the city of Chino Hills, in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Covering about 14102 acres, the grassy hills are home to a number of native wildflower species such as lupine, California poppy, and bush sunflower as well as some longtime nonnative plants like black mustard. As it was the end of the bloom season, we did not see any poppies. There were some small purple flowers, mule fat, and plenty of mustard bearing their yellow flowers. More importantly to the regional ecosystem, the park is a biological corridor that protects and enables the movement of animals that occupy a longer range. We saw a few signs warning of the presence of mountain lions and other predatory animals within the park.
Chino Hills State Park is about a 40-minute drive for us from San Gabriel. We packed up the minivan with the essentials for an afternoon out, including plenty of water and snacks for man and canine alike. Owen was a happy camper bounding into his spot in the van, ready for adventure. Being a Sunday early afternoon, the traffic wasn’t foo bad. There are three entrances to the park, with the closest one being the main entrance off California 71 on Sapphire Road. After paying our day use fee, we drove into the park.
The road was one lane and narrow at points, but fortunately the park was not busy. I obeyed the 15 mile per hour speed limit as much as possible, and we were fine. On the advice of the ranger at the kiosk, we followed the road up to Horse Camp, and that was where we parked. From there, we hiked back down Bane Canyon over to the trailhead for the Aliso Canyon Trail. After a quick water break, we hit the trail.
Aliso Canyon was not shaded, but the intermittent cloud cover and soft breeze made for a pleasant day. Owen enjoyed the new smells and being back outside after having to take it easy for a while. We took our time, and only went about a half-mile down the trail which connects to four other trails including Water Canyon. I didn’t want to go too far and push Owen too much. Though he was still having a fun time, we decided to head back to the trail head.
This ended up being a good thing. We were within about a hundred yards or so from the start when we heard a ranger truck driving up behind us. The friendly park ranger asked us how out hike was going, but then let us know that dogs were actually not allowed on the trail. They are allowed on paved roads, but not on the trails. Still he was sympathetic to our dog’s needs and let us know of a water spigot just up the trail in case Owen needed a drink. We apologized; we hadn’t seen a no dogs sign before hitting the trail, and I had checked to make sure that Owen would be allowed in the park before heading out. Turns out though, we had missed the sign at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed in campgrounds and on paved roads but not on trails or in buildings.
I walked up Bane Canyon back to the Horse Camp parking area. Michael stayed with Owen and they had some water and snacks while I drove the car back down so that Owen wouldn’t have to hike back up. We loaded the car and then drove over to the Rolling M Ranch Campground to check it out. It was quiet; I didn’t see any campers on our visit. The campground looked nice though, with restrooms and other amenities and pretty views of the hills. It might make a nice camping getaway close to home- and within a few miles from Starbucks.
We hung out at the park a bit longer, stopping for photos and mini-hikes at the scenic turnoffs. We didn’t attempt another full trail; now that we knew that dogs were not allowed on the trail, we weren’t going to take him. But Owen still had fun sniffing the wildflowers by the roads. It was still a pleasant afternoon spent in the natural beauty of Chino Hills State Park.
Some things to consider:
Like most California State Parks, there is a per vehicle use fee. We paid $10 for the day, which wasn’t too bad in my opinion.
The trails are for the most part not shaded. While the vegetation does have oak woodland and sone riparian zones, the areas we visited didn’t have too many shade trees. Sun protection and plenty of water are a must.
To make reservations at the campground, visit ReserveCalifornia.com. There are primitive campsites at Horse Camp. Rolling M Ranch has 20 campsites and allows for tent and RV camping. Due to the limited facilities, it is considered a primitive campground, though it does have showers and flush toilets.
Dogs are allowed on paved roads and in the campgrounds. I think the next time that we take Owen he’ll wear his booties. There are plenty of areas he can go when the park is pretty quiet, but I’d want for him to have some paw protection if he’s hiking on asphalt.
The trip to Chino Hills State Park was a nice time of exploring. Though the poppies were no longer blooming, there were still many wildflowers to see while staying on the trails, and the gentle hills were scenic in their own right. And with 90 miles of trails within the state park, there is much to be explored in Chino Hills.
I am grateful for the many adventures that we’ve been able to share with our fluffy puppy over the years, and so thankful that we got to have two more treks together in our California State Parks this past weekend. Happy tails!
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